Rocket Man, Burning Out His Fuse Out Here Alone….Ramblings of a Journalist

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it’s cold as hell. And there’s no one there to raise them – if you did”

Presenting a Radio Show, March 2017, at Nova Radio North East.

When I was a young man, about 14, I got a week’s work experience at a solicitor’s office. It was part of a work experience at school where you got two weeks off and were encouraged to go and find voluntary employment, a potential first chance to see what working life was like. I didn’t want to be there. I was jealous that a friend of mine got a job at the Irish Sun, his uncle worked with them, but I have no idea what he did. Instead, I ended up going around door to door looking for work and ended up getting a call from this solicitor’s who offered me a weeks work.

I remember it snowed really awfully that week and I walked into work. The solicitor phoned his receptionist and asked if I’d come in, because he wasn’t able to make it, and was shocked I’d even turned up. They closed an hour for lunch and the elderly receptionist had little enough to do, whereas I had virtually nothing to do. I was probably more concerned with the stories I’d heard from friends about employers giving volunteers money at the end of the week. I’m sure that would be true if they’d actually done honest work and made a contribution but it would have probably been easier if I’d just looked at the bad weather and decided to play truant like a normal teenager.

Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel and myself in 2010 in Newcastle. Pictured shortly before my emergency operation.

The next week, after the solicitors, I still had a week left of my experience and no placement. My mother, I believe, knew a cleaner in a local school. And that school had a radio studio – a local community station called Dublin South FM. Through some miracle I was asked whether I’d like to go and do a week’s placement at a radio station. I accepted gleefully and arrived for work. Over that week I worked on several news stories where I first learned how to tailor a story for different news mediums. I can still remember my first news story, it was about the Stena Sealink, a passenger ferry in Dublin. The ferry had crashed into the wall of the port in Dublin and it was my job to take the pre existing story and tailor it into a news bite for the presenter to read on air.

That week I also learned about creating a radio show for the first time. There were Mini Disc’s as far as you could see stockpiled behind the presenters desk and I was encouraged to create my own radio show. I created a show that lasted for an hour, played tracks like REM’s ‘Man on the Moon’ and talked about the latest film releases inbetween songs. At the end of the week I gave the MD with the show to the volunteers at the station and went away. The show was never broadcast and I never manged to get that copy or any copy of it again. I never heard, in fact nobody ever heard, my very first radio show.

That station had a thing called DJ for a Day and you could sign up – you’d go in for two hours on a Saturday night and present a radio program. I started presenting from August 2002 – shortly after Guns N’ Roses appeared at the MTV VMA’s and also after returning from a family holiday to Portugal. On the very first show we broadcast, that is, both myself and school friend Allan Roche – we played tracks like Nickelback’s ‘Bad’ and a cover of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ by the band Orgy. I remember being too embarrassed to say the track on air and asking Allan to introduce it specifically. 

Director Morgan Spurlock (a huge early inspiration for me) and myself in 2008, pictured in Cineworld Dublin

From Halloween night 2003 we began presenting ‘Headbanger’s Ball’. A regular Sunday night program – in exchange for volunteering at the station every Sunday. I can still hear the firework’s in the air going off outside the window of the station, because it was Halloween night and I put the microphone outside the window to capture the atmosphere. Maybe we both were thinking, for a second, that this was all for us. Some nights after we’d finish the show, especially on Saturday’s, we’d go out into town or meet up with friends. It was a huge social event that the week seemed to revolve around.

When it came to choosing subjects for University I wanted nothing more than Journalism or Media. Maynooth, Griffith or Tallaght. Anywhere that would accept me. Of course, as a self funded student depending on academia I was unable to secure the correct points and had to accept a course run in an alternative college which – rather unusually – led to a British qualification in Southern Ireland. This, however, did allow me to make the leap to a course in my chosen college of Tallaght and pursue the course I’d originally wanted to do to begin with. I graduated with Honors in 2008.

If I’d known just how much the world was likely to change since that time I would have done a lot of things different. But life is always easier when looking back. My chosen profession of Journalism saw a critical and dramatic change, with not only an effect on how the medium was consumed on a mass market level but the change of who exactly had the chance (or the right, perhaps?) to call themselves a Journalist. In 2005 we could never have imagined that streaming videos, home brew journalism, blogging and internet reporting would become the norm and what little chances you had of real tangible journalism on any level would collapse even further.

In many respects my career has had several peaks and several drops. It has contained a number of astonishing moments and great memories. I’ve had some rich stories and mementos from a great time spent in front of the microphone or in front of the camera. I’ve got a plethora of stories I can bring out at any one time to entertain a room full of strangers or write the perfect speech for my brother if he ever lets me be best man at his wedding. He has to, of course, get married for that to actually happen.

Def Leppard singer Joe Elliot and myself. This was taken in April 2011 after I finished working on a BBC Three show ‘Geordie Finishing School’ and used the money I’d earned from my first ever BBC paycheck to see Joe live in concert.

I once got told the Irish are famous for stories. I should hire myself to appear at weddings, funerals and bar mitzvah’s, tell assembled guests great tales and conquests like a living, speaking blog. Fulfill the purpose of both informing and entertaining people. And yet within myself I often feel like one of the loneliest people in the world. Still trying to achieve something he can’t quite reach or still attempting to shake a feeling of regret that it wasn’t different. I’ve never classed what I felt as depression it’s just always been there, it’s always been present – at times it disappears and then reappears – just a reminder that I am constantly making my own decisions and where those choices have led. Especially when it has been dictated by someone else.

Of all the things I’ve accomplished and I’ve done, the only thing I truly regret is not being harsh enough when things needed to be said and action needed to be taken.

In both 2009 and 2017 I was offered the opportunities I had been longing for. To  be a part of something at the very heart of Journalism. In both cases these jobs came to an end just as they had begun. And I’m not sure I ever recovered properly from the first one. I spend my time looking at work I’ve completed over the last years wondering what might have been. Almost lost in a thought as that fourteen year old boy who had a eureka moment when he discovered the thing he wanted do – inform people. 

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