Carolyn Moore

Green Party Councillor for Kimmage Rathmines

Emer O’Hea Martin, February 2015

Careers feature, Like magazine, February 2015. Click to enlarge.

Photography: Rob Lambe

Radio Star

“I’ve always wanted to work in media.” That’s Emer’s unequivocal opening to our interview. “My science teacher, Mr. O’ Broin, liked my voice and used to ask me to read in class every day, so it was he who inspired me to consider a career in radio.”

It proved a fortuitous start to what has become a solid career in broadcast media, and armed with a degree in Media & English, and a further qualification in Media Presentation and Performance, Emer has gone on to work for 96FM, C103 and RTÉ. As senior producer on The Neil Prendeville Show, she steered it to the highest listenership figures in 96FM’s 25-year history, before the team caused shockwaves last year by moving to Red FM.

“When I started working with Neil my goal was to make it the most successful local radio talk show in the country. We achieved that and we brought the show to 120,000 listeners. Now that we’ve moved station, my goal remains the same; to bring the show to the top for the second time,” she enthuses.

Emer admits the decision to leave 96FM was difficult. “I worked there for 13 years. Neil had helped built the station from scratch 25 years previously, and Colm was there for 10 years. We made some fantastic friends. But,” she adds “we had brought the show as far as it could go, it was time for a new challenge.”

And you get the sense that, while she clearly loves a challenge, it helps that Emer is absolutely passionate about the medium, a self-described “radio anorak”. “I tune into various chat shows in the afternoons and evenings. For me, radio is the most intimate medium available, and really the most entertaining. It has the ability to make you laugh, cry and scream with frustration, but that’s what I love about it,” she states.

“The only ‘typical’ things about a day in radio are stress, excitement, a roller-coaster of emotions. I’ve a running order ready each morning but more often than not that’s thrown out the window. Our show is so organic – 95% of our interviewees are normal Joe and Jill Soap, who have extraordinary stories to tell.

“The success of our show is thanks to these people, who trust Neil and the show enough to share their stories. Every day we laugh and cry along with our listeners as they bare their souls to Cork.”

Emer’s love for radio is matched only by her love for Leeside, and though her husband Alberto lived in Dublin for the first two years of their relationship, he relocated to Cork a few months into their marriage. For Emer, moving to Dublin wasn’t an option, despite having an appealing offer on the table.

“Two years ago, I was approached by one of the nationals to produce their mid-morning slot in Dublin. A big name broadcaster made a move to their morning talk show around that time, so it would have been an interesting challenge, but I declined. I am Cork, through and through, and I have no desire to leave. A lot of people think Dublin is the centre of the universe but I disagree entirely. I love Cork — the people, the pace of life, the sense of community, the humour, beautiful west Cork and so much more.”

And the show too is Cork through and through. “All news is local,” says Emer. “Everything we do on the show is tailored for Cork. If there is an earthquake in India, we’ll track down a Corkonian living there; if there is a tsunami in Thailand, we’ll get a phone number for Paddy from Fairhill who runs a local bar there.

“The show succeeds because we interview real Cork people with real stories to tell. The hardest part of our job is coming up with fresh ideas, that’s why every day brings new challenges, but the buzz you get after a cracking show is one of the greatest feelings.”

Working in such a fast–paced environment brings personal challenges too, chief among them the need to switch–off. “Media never, ever stops,” laughs Emer. “My day starts at 7am and I’m still online, reading papers and chasing interviews at midnight. But I’ve been involved in the media since I was a teenager so it’s really all I know. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

When she gets the rare chance to unwind, Emer spends time with her husband, family and friends. “I’m a real home bird,” she smiles. “I love watching box sets too. We’re a bit obsessed with The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The Knick, Fargo, and The Killing at the moment.

“Most evenings I like to read and eat too much chocolate, and I love going out for dinner and drinks.”

However, Emer admits that striking a work/life balance is difficult because “if you take your eye off the ball, you’ll miss something”. Another difficulty in the industry, she adds, is the gender imbalance. “In last year’s PPI radio awards there were 40 nominees — three women and 37 men!” she says. “There’s something very wrong with those figures.”

While she frequently hears male colleagues claim “women don’t like listening to other women on the radio”, she believes that with the likes of Marian Finucane, Mary Wilson and Miriam O’Callaghan boasting huge JNLR listenership figures, things may be improving “somewhat”, though she admits that “traditionally, you’d barely hear a female voice from breakfast to drive time.”

At the same time, Emer is keen to highlight that female voices dominate most radio newsrooms, and while many of the foremost broadcasters in Ireland are men, “their senior producers are more often than not female. I think it’s great that Neil has both a male and female producer so he can bounce ideas off both of us. That way, we get the mix right,” she says.

And getting that mix right, while making the show’s move to Red FM a resounding success, are top of Emer’s priorities right now. “I’m a very ambitious person and I have lots of plans for the future. I’d never say never to fronting my own show on radio or TV, but for now we’ve great plans in place for The Neil Prendeville Show, so I won’t be going anywhere for the next few years.”

Emer concludes: “In ten years time I’ll be very happy if I’m still working in the media, married to my hubby and surrounded by family and friends. I’d hope to have a few smallies by then, and I think I’d eventually like to buy and restore a cortijo in the south of Spain and transform it into a wedding venue for Irish brides… but I’d probably still have to work in some English speaking Spanish radio station, just to get my daily radio fix!”