COVID-19 HAS restricted our movements, created the necessity of social distancing, self-isolation, and cocooning, and resulted in economic hardship for many due to loss of employment of falling revenue.
Yet, on the other side of all this, are stories of resilience and creativity in the face of adversity, the tenacity and determination of individuals to maintain some kind of normality, and, through whose actions a sense of community and connectivity endures.
Paula Healy, manager of the NUI Galway based community/alternative radio station, Flirt FM 101.3, is one such person. She has managed to keep the conversation going, the music playing, and people broadcasting, co-ordinating the entire operation from her kitchen table.
'It’s not been easy, but there is a real sense of us reaching out to each other, creating a sense of community'
Flirt FM is based in NUIG’s Árus na MacLéinn, but the week before St Patrick’s Day, the university authorities announced the campus would be closing as part of the coronavirus restrictions. Furthermore, Paula and her team were told they would not have access to the radio station for the foreseeable future - anything up to three months.
“That was tough to hear,” Paula tells me over the phone. “The first thing we thought was, should we keep going? Then, can we keep going?
The answer was ‘Yes’, following a meeting between Paula, Eoghan Holland, Flirt FM’s head of news, and Flirt production assistant, Heather Hinchon-Quinn.
“We began to organise how we could do it remotely,” says Paula, “so we started providing training guides so people can record shows at home using their own technology; we set up IT systems so we could log in from home; and we had to do a new schedule, and that was difficult, it took a couple of days; but we pulled in material from other community stations; we used podcasts recorded in the station; and a lot Flirt alumni have come on board to help, such as former station manager, Keith Wallace, who, along with Cecilia Danell, is presenting a show especially for this period.”
Keeping the station broadcasting has also provided encouragement for others to do the same, with Flirt seeing many people volunteer to create shows for the station in recent weeks.
This wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago. This is social media and the internet actually working for us'
“It’s not been easy, but there is a real sense of us reaching out to each other, creating a sense of community,” says Paula. “There are varying degrees of technical know-how, but what is really nice is that more and more volunteers are coming forward, looking to help, recording shows at home and sending them in.
“Right now we have between 25 to 30 shows, and when somebody sends in a show, especially for the first time, that they have learned how to record it and put together - and that’s a skill they have gone to the effort to learn and will be able to use that in the future - that’s just amazing, and that’s happening multiple times each week.
“Everybody has really come on board, especially with the night time music shows. It’s unreal, and it would not have been possible 10 years ago. This is social media and the internet actually working for us, and in opposition to all the misinformation out there. It’s definitely social media come good.”
Paula is co-ordinating the entire operation from her own computer, while at home. It is a mammoth task for her, as well as for Eoghan and Heather, but it is also working well. “At the start it was 12 hours a day, but now that Eoghan, Heather, and myself have figured out how to do this, we can each work about seven to nine hours, so it’s calmed down a bit again,” says Paula.
While Paula’s indefatigable work ethic is not in question, even she finds time to take a break, although it is of the ‘keeping yourself busy’ kind.
“I’m working a lot with Craol - Community Radio Ireland,” she says. “I’m doing graphic design, I’m doing yoga, I’m cycling for exercise while staying socially distant; me and my flatmate are watching Tiger King; and I’m listening to an awful lot of techno on YouTube and dancing around the kitchen!”
Flirt FM will continue to broadcast daily, including today and Good Friday, with the exception of Saturday April 11 and Sunday 12 when it will be off air. Daily broadcasting returns on the morning of Monday April 13.