From 1980s Dublin pirate radio to 25 years on Sydney Public Community Radio

Wanderlust took rugby playing marketing consultant and broadcaster Kieran Rigney to Australia

Rugby player, marketing consultant and radio presenter Kieran Rigney

Rugby player, marketing consultant and radio presenter Kieran Rigney

 

Kieran Rigney, a former marketing consultant, swapped Blackrock, Co Dublin for Australia in 1986. He is a presenter on Celtic FM, a twice weekly show broadcast on Australia’s biggest public community radio station, 98.5FM, and has covered the Sydney bushfires of 1994 and the Lindt Café siege in 2015 for RTÉ, as well as being a researcher for the broadcaster in advance of the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

When did you leave Ireland and where did you head to?

With a couple of years’ work under my belt at Saatchi & Saatchi OKB in Clonskeagh, Dublin, I left Ireland in October 1986, delaying plans to settle in LA, where I had a job offer. The US could wait – it was too much of a full time commitment for a 23-year-old who had the wanderlust.

What attracted you to Australia?

My dad took me to watch the masterful Australian schoolboys play at Donnybrook. The seeds were sown. A few years later I found myself playing club rugby with Manly, then Northern Suburbs in Sydney, against some of them.

My father had rugby friends from Bective Rangers who had settled there – Fergie Keogh (Irish full-back) near Sydney, and Henry Forde (Connacht scrum-half) in Perth. I lived in Perth from October 1986 to early 1988, and I’ve lived on Sydney’s lower north shore ever since.

How did you become a radio presenter?

When the disastrous bushfires hit Sydney in 1994, I reached out to RTÉ. Unlike earlier fires, several of which caused much more damage, these bushfires entered a major city. RTÉ was surprised at the huge reaction they got to my first piece – maybe they underestimated the number of families who had loved ones around Sydney. Before I knew it, I was reporting around the clock and providing background to Morning Ireland, radio and TV news. I approached RTÉ prior to the 2000 Olympics and they took me on as a key researcher. More recently, I covered the Lindt Café siege in Sydney.

What sort of shows do you present?

Celtic FM is a twice weekly show broadcast on Australia’s biggest public community radio station, 98.5FM. It also goes out on digital radio around New South Wales. It is a slice of Ireland, not only for the Irish, but also for those who are interested in Ireland, with music, news, sports, comedy and interviews on Irish and local Irish issues. Especially in the early years, we kept the community informed.

Last year, I was surprised to learn that I was the longest broadcaster on air at the multicultural station – and they didn’t mean my 6ft 5ins! The show is soon coming up to 25 years on air.

Do you think you would have had the same opportunities if you’d stayed in Ireland?

Despite the disastrous economic climate (18 per cent unemployment, 60 per cent or more of graduates with no work six months out of college), I had opportunities in Ireland. However, like my mum, Kay, who left Dublin for Chicago in the 1950s, I had the wanderlust.

I had a few sliding door moments. The week before I left, I was approached by the former head of news at Downtown Radio in Belfast, to take the key news reading role at a new Dublin pirate radio station. And five years later, on a visit home, Brendan O’ Reilly approached me about a TV sport presenting job. I was very flattered and very tempted, but had just started a family, so turned down this opportunity too.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about moving to Australia?

To those in their early twenties, get out here for 12 months and immerse yourself. Look at it as an adventure. Don’t expect jobs are going to come immediately. Be prepared to take on casual work as soon as you get here. To those ready to start a family, think carefully. Not having a large family network here to support us was challenging.

What is your life in Sydney like?

I’m lucky enough to live on the harbour foreshore, in Kirribilli. The walk along Dún Laoghaire pier with my family on the weekend was replaced by one winding under the Harbour Bridge, with my daughters Stephanie and Tara by my side, looking out at the stunning harbour and Opera House. The outdoor living is seductive, as is the restaurant and cafe lifestyle.

Downsides are the cost of living and the distance from Ireland. Recently, I’ve grown uneasy with a shift in attitudes towards the multicultural diversity that Sydney has always had.

Is there anything you miss about living in Ireland?

Friends and family. Despite having great long-time friends here, it’s amazing how easily you reconnect with your old pals. They get your references and nuances. But I’m well aware the Ireland I left is not the Ireland of today.

What are your plans for the future?

I’d like to bring my business and marketing experience into the radio industry. I’m currently learning the craft of writing stories, so let’s see where that takes me.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experiences, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and the work you do.

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