Keeping the wolves from the door and letting the people in a day in the life


North East Access Radio (NEARfm) is akin to an elegant tall ship, most-times riding the storms, sometimes drifting in the doldrums, and I try to manage this great ship on a budget meant for a rowboat. A typical day is a rare occurrence.

My day usually starts at 9 a.m., when I begin scanning the post for cheques, bills, CVs and the odd threat. With the office staff, comprised mostly of Community Employment workers paid by FAS, I have a quick check on wages, holidays, new staff, audit preparations and the like.

Then a speed-read through the papers to check for local or non-mainstream stories which we might be worth following up. I then tackle the immediate problems of the day - broadcast irregularities from the previous night, absentee staff etc.

Operating an open-door policy to make the station as accessible as possible to the local community is a noble ideal, but it can make for a hectic day - with primary-school children wanting to see the studio, quiz junkies wanting the name of the Bside of the Beatles' second single or pensioners inquiring about their entitlements.

In consultation with the assistant manager - the only other full-time staff member - staff problems have to be kept in check. Time-keeping, absenteeism, recruiting, interviewing, crisis management (for instance when an office romance breaks down) and disciplining can take up quite a bit of time. In the afternoon I usually try to deal with the statutory bodies, co-operating with Dublin Corporation on libraries' promotions and ensuring the Citizens' Information roster is up to date.

I try to do some research for one of our Irish language programmes, which I present, but this often ends up a last-minute thing. If presenters are late, ill or AWOL I may have to step in myself to cover anything from presenting the German language programme or reading the Dublin Bay sea-area forecast to interviewing Joe Higgins TD on the Haughey tax scandal or presenting the local current-affairs programme.

There are a lot of meetings to attend - and assessing which ones to miss can be a crucial part of the day. The one which concerns studio rostering and training is a vital one and I still do some of the training myself, but now only in an emergency situation. Ensuring that staff and volunteers are adequately trained is an ongoing struggle.

In the evening I meet with the chairperson and treasurer to see what bills are outstanding and which wolves we need to keep from the door today. We also consider which volunteers are pulling their weight and what to do about the ones who aren't. The programme committee meeting ranges from future plans, listener feedback, potential libel and poor quality broadcasting.

The various committees ask a wide variety of questions which I do my best to answer, but keeping abreast of the nuances of 105 hours of programming, 150 registered volunteers, 30 staff and the myriad of community groups is nigh impossible.

The evening also gives me a chance to apply for grant-aided funding. Due to our non-commercial status these are a vital source of income. Sponsors are generous, but it's wearisome dealing with local businesspeople who keep asking for JNLR listnership figures or the spending power of our target audience, and persuading them to fund us for the betterment of the community. I attempt to dream up innovative yet realistic applications that help keep us afloat.

Some days I end up flat on my back on the floor under the main studio desk, repairing a broken connection, jumping up quickly, brushing myself down to meet a local TD, pretending everything is fine.

At the end of the day I try to make time to reflect on the day's efforts. I wonder if the programming was local enough, and if the community truly feel that they actually own this station, and, more so, if NEARfm's broadcasting really gives an alternative worldview to the ubiquity of the Murdoch media world.

In an interview with William Hederman