Let’s Meet Noreen Byrne – The Chair Of The Board

Let’s Meet Noreen Byrne – The Chair Of The Board

“I think there’s a big opportunity for community radio, the big challenge, I think is in our heads about risk-taking; going out there and thinking outside the box about how, for example, to reflect the diversity in the area.”

I am joined by Noreen Byrne who is the Chair of the Board at Phoenix FM. I learned that Noreen has a passion for community radio,  community development, diversity and loves to travel and cook.  We delve into her perspective on community radio, community growth over the years, some of her favourite shows, how she has been handling the lockdown and some of her interests outside of radio and community development such as cooking and travel.

So, Noreen, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Would you like to open up with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I’m a retired person, I live in the catchment area of the station [Phoenix FM], I live in Riverwood. I’ve lived there for the last 20 years, but before that, I lived out here a long time ago for about five years, and I moved back again. So, I know the area fairly well, although it’s changed considerably since I lived here before. And my two daughters and their families live out the catchment as well. So, we’re all out here. And it’s funny, I’m saying out here because it used to be County Dublin, you know, it’s now Dublin 15, but it’s still kind of county, isn’t it? I’ve worked in community development almost all my professional life, not completely, but almost all. And so I have a big passion for community development. I really believe that it really helps people to stand up for themselves and to, in the context of radio to get our voices heard. I think people have a right to that in a local community radios scenario. All areas obviously don’t have community radios, but I think where they are, I think people who live there have a right to get their voices heard. And the radio station has an obligation to make sure that that happens. So yeah, so getting involved, what happened was, I retired and I was always working on the north side, most of my professional life is spent on the north side of the city. And I was looking to, I suppose to make a contribution over here. I joined “Board Match”, that links people with community organisations or non-profit organisations. I got three opportunities, and the radio station came back to me first. So that’s what happened. That’s a kind of an accident, and that I ended up with the community radio. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the other two organisations, you know, I really have a bit of a passion for community radio.

What do you like most about working with Phoenix FM?

Well, one of the things that I’m finding very interesting is that Phoenix FM is around for a very long time. It’s about 30 years old, and it was one of the first community radio stations that got the licence. It’s at a point of change and I really enjoy working on change. So, we’re at that point now. It’s not a new start, I wouldn’t call it a new start, but a new phase. We’re living in different times; the 21st century, technology has changed, the community itself has completely changed from the time Phoenix started. I remember when Phoenix started because I was very involved in near FM at the time. Near FM had been, dare I say, I suppose we can say it now, kind of a pirate station for a long time. I knew Jack Boren very, very well, who was kind of, you know, one of the leading lights in community radio at the time. And Jack asked me to go on to the Board of Near FM when they were becoming legitimate, shall we say, or legal when they were applying for the licence. So, I was on the board for a couple of years and then I was, you know, kind of a very regular guest of the station. All our public events of the organisation I worked for, were recorded and were on Near FM. I was very familiar with community radio when I came back out here to live 20 years ago.

Brilliant, and with regards to the community and you mentioned that you’ve been in this community for quite a while. What are some of the big changes you’ve seen positive and you could mention negative, if you wish, that you’ve seen as the community has grown and expanded?

Well, one of the biggest, wonderful positives for me is the diversity in the community. I love the fact that, say when you go do your shopping in the shopping centre, you know, it’s sometimes it feels like what I used to think London felt like in the 80s and the 90s. It was full of diversity and I really enjoy that. I think that’s It’s a big challenge for the station, you know, to reflect that diversity. So that’s a really big positive. When you look at the schools, I have a bit of a passion for education as well, when you look around the schools, primary schools and secondary schools, all the children from all the different backgrounds. I just really love that. I love the fact that the children of today are getting the opportunity to see the world in a different way than I did, or indeed my children did.

I remember I was very upset about this, I wanted a multi-denominational school to send my children to and there was no such thing at the time. So, it’s really great now that, as well as the multi-denominational education, all the other religions, take children from different religions in as well. I think that’s a really positive side. We have an extremely diverse area; Dublin 15, and I love that. The only negative thing I see is that’s not reflected in the restaurants around the cafes. We need more diversity in the shopping centre and those kinds of areas. But I still, you know, find ways to buy tahini and different Arabic foods and that, because I really like Arabic food. And, and I cook it a lot, you know, so yeah, that’s one thing I get a buzz out of; I enjoy it very much so in the area.

You mentioned cooking and diverse foods. With regard to the lockdown, have you gotten more into cooking or have you had that experience over lockdown of attaining new any hobbies or cooking new types of foods?

I’m the cook in this house and it’s not because it’s a very strict delineation of tasks between myself and my other half. It’s just I’m better at it. I love it. I really enjoy cooking. What’s happened is, because of the lockdown, and a lot of people will just share this as well, the dinner has become a kind of visual focus. I have been using the same ingredients, yes, but doing different things with them. And that’s been very enjoyable. The other thing that happened to us, that it was very funny, really: In the lockdown was we ended up with a kitten.

Totally unexpected, we took it to mind it for a few days and we ended up with it. It’s turned out to be a wonderful thing because first of all, my husband has never had cats. I’ve had to catch myself before and dogs as well. But he hasn’t had cats. So, he’s kind of fallen in love again and the cat has absolutely brought all kinds of fun and joy to the house. Very relaxing as well. So that was a new thing. Food is the big one and I’ve done all kinds of dishes from all different parts of the world. I really enjoy it.

How has the lockdown affected you and your work?

It hasn’t affected me in terms of, I suppose outputs if you know what I mean. Socially speaking, it’s affected me. It’s like, as I was saying earlier, you know, I’m kind of invisible and I’m not happy a bit with that. I’d like volunteers and staff to know me. Not that I want to be in their faces all the time, but I’d like people to know who I am and what my interest is at the station. So, that hasn’t been possible too much.

Do you see radio being a continuing positive impact on our community in the future?

Oh, I think there are huge opportunities for community radio. I think that there’s a lot of challenges as well, but I think there are huge opportunities. The question for me is, are the stations ready for those opportunities? I always believe, and this is the kind of lesson I’ve learned in working community development, you have to claim them, you have to take them yourself. You have to design your own futures to some extent, and I think that the world is your oyster – to use that expression. Yes, I think there’s a big opportunity for community radio, the big challenge, I think is in our heads about risk-taking; going out there and thinking outside the box about how, for example, to reflect the diversity in the area.

It’s not just about having people from other cultures on your board, it’s about: what does the station sound like? And when people you know, switch it on what will they hear, and it really needs to be more diverse. That’s one of the big challenges. And also, to think beyond, one of the things that happen, I think a lot of the time is that, I’m not blaming, it’s just the way the world is a lot of the time; you get a good idea to do something, or get a very creative idea and automatically are into “Oh, no, that won’t work, oh, the problems”, to try to shift your thinking beyond that. To think about your vision first and then to come back and try and see what are the problems and how you can overcome them. That’s a way of thinking that I think we need more of in the community radio movement. Because it’s a licenced medium, there’s a lot of laws and rules and regulations around it. People can become very affected by that.

So yes, that’s the framework, but you have to be really creative and imaginative within that framework and not worry too much about it. If you know the rules and the regulations, well, then you should be able to move forward pretty quickly, but you have to learn them, and you have to be clear about them. But I think that, yes, you can be highly imaginative. Like, I’m very, very fascinated about, for example, the “Culinary Culture” programmes that we’ve done; they’re just so creative. I think Phoenix has been very good at doing very creative programming, and I hope we get much better at it as time goes on.

You mention “Culinary Culture”, are there any other shows on the station that stands out for you?

Well, I have to admit that I have a kind of personal interest here. One of my grandsons is the producer and presenter of “Phoenix Blues”. One of the things that’s very interesting about that, for me is: I thought I knew the blues, you know? No, I didn’t. What’s so interesting for me about that blues programme is the kind of social history behind so many of those songs. People love the blues, but when you hear the stories of the singers and songwriters, it’s like a social history of America. It’s very educational. And then the other one that I really love is with Tony Maycock and Chris, called “Getting to Know You”. Yeah, that’s has a very nice feel about it, I enjoyed the kind of intimacy there’s a kind of an intimate feel about it that I enjoy. Then there are others than come and go. I know people may say I like it[“Phoenix Blues”] because my grandson does it but I’m fascinated about the fact that you can listen to a radio programme for half an hour and learn so much about the social history behind the songs and the singers. I think it’s fantastic.

What kind of show would you host if you went about hosting one?

I’d be very interested in hosting shows about other parts of the world, cultural things in other parts of the world. I think, the media that we have access to, generally speaking, (I don’t mean Community Media) is very focused (you know, I suppose, understandably) on what’s happening in our own countries and so on. I’m very fascinated about what’s happening in other parts of the world. I was watching CNN recently around the whole Trump thing, which in itself was a kind of a horrific soap opera. But there was a little ad for community radio from Amman in Jordan. So interesting, because the guy who was talking about it sounded like one of us talking about community radio. That’s what was so interesting. He was basically saying that they have so many refugees from Syria, the war in Syria, now in Jordan, and the radio station was looking at COVID-19, and how people were doing, and then they discovered that they had a whole cohort of people who had other needs as well. I was thinking the way he described the way the station changed was community development. I was thinking: wouldn’t be great for Phoenix to have links with stations like that across the world. Fantastic. Yeah, I’m, I’m currently googling and find his email address!

Where would be a place you’d like to visit? As soon as everything opens, where would be the first place you’d like to visit?

The first place would be Spain because obviously, it’s warm and I love the culture and history of Spain. Obviously, the sun is beautiful as well and the blue skies. I’m very fascinated about the history and culture of Spain, I feel very comfortable there. But I’ve been all over the world, I’ve been to Palestine, eight or nine times and Vietnam, and I lived in Ghana, West Africa for a few years.  I also lived in Jamaica. So, I’ve been around the world a bit in my lifetime. Yeah.

That’s, that’s amazing. And those are very interesting places as well to visit, not many people would have them places on their list.

Yeah, I’m very interested in knowing what happens in societies that are changing. I’m a very curious person. Thankfully, my other half the same. So, we go to those kinds of places. Now, you know, the last couple of years, we’ve been just been a few times because we’re not getting any younger, you know, and you don’t want to be going on a big long trip every year. We have had a very interesting holiday, about three or four years ago in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are two countries with a land border and they’re two very different cultures, you know, so that kind of thing is very fascinating, you know, for me, anyway.

First of all, I want to thank you so much for joining me today for a chat. It’s a pleasure getting to know you. Is anything you’d like to close off with or anything I might have missed that you’d like to tell our listeners and readers.

Well, I’d like to say to the readers, that they should get in touch with us. We really need them to get in touch with us. We’re very small, and we don’t have a lot of resources to be going out to try to get in touch with everybody. So, if you want to have your say and get your voice heard, get in touch with Phoenix FM, we’re always available to talk to you.

Thanks so much for joining me once again, and take care.

You too, and thanks very much for thinking of me, David, and best of luck with your project. It looks fantastic.