Gabrielle Cummins marks International Women’s Day

Beat’s Gabrielle Cummins is marking International Women’s Day with a special article for RadioToday featuring ten women from the world of media and radio in Ireland.

Gabrielle has personally interacted with each one and credits them with having made a positive impact on her and no doubt, many other females in the industry. She has deliberately compiled a list of women who do not currently work with her at Beat 102-103 because she points out that she has lots of talented female colleagues at the Broadcast Centre in Waterford so the list would have been too long! The basic criteria for inclusion on this list is that all these women are still predominantly working in or teaching about media/radio in Ireland.

1. When I started at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick in the autumn of 1994, I intended to be an English and French secondary school teacher. For the second semester, I decided to try out media as an elective subject; not really knowing what it entailed. By the end of that first year at college, I had to break the news to my parents that I no longer wanted to be a teacher and was instead going to major in media.

There were two lecturers who contributed significantly to that decision. The first was Dr Rosemary Day. Rosemary’s bubbly enthusiasm for all things media was infectious. Many years have passed, and she and I are still in contact as Beat 102-103 frequently partners with the college on student placements. I also recently contributed to Rosemary’s research on the use of the Irish language on radio in Ireland.

Not only is Rosemary the current Head of the Department at Mary Immaculate College, UL, she is also a board member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It heartens me to see that she is still as passionate and enthusiastic about both media and her students as she was over twenty years ago.

2. In the late 1990s, Dr Díog O’Connell lectured in film studies at Mary Immaculate, UL. Díog was undoubtedly a little intimidating to a fledgling media student like me but over time, we established a mutual respect. She recognized my passion for media, and I, in turn, had immense respect for her and her in-depth knowledge of the world of film. Díog was also the first person to encourage me to speak on the radio about the importance of positive mental health. In my final year at the University, Díog was producing a radio documentary for the college radio station Wired FM, on the issue of suicide and she asked me to be a contributor.

Díog knew my brother’s best friend had died by suicide the previous year and that the tragic and sudden loss had impacted me greatly. I was nervous about publicly discussing such a sensitive topic but her handling of the issue and of me allowed me to speak more openly about it on the radio. Little did I know then, that less than five years later, my own brother and a friend would both die by suicide. As a result, my desire to speak out about suicide and mental health has intensified over the years.

I’m grateful to both The Sunday Independent and The Irish Times as both national newspapers have published several articles, written by me on the issue. Knowing the importance of speaking out and raising awareness about caring for your mental health all began with Dr Díog O’Connell in Mary I.

3. I’m from Thurles, a small town in Tipperary. Access to anyone working in media, never mind a female working in this industry, is limited. When I graduated from University in 1998, I reached out to my best friend’s older sister who had been in the year ahead of me at school. Colette Fitzpatrick, now Virgin Media news anchor, was with Today FM at the time. Without hesitation,

Colette furnished me with a list of contacts and encouraged me to send on my CV to them immediately. Colette also supplied me with contacts not only in her own radio station but others she knew in radio around the country whom she thought might be able to help. Years later, when I was offered the position of TV manager at Waterford @8, a local television programme produced by WLR FM, Colette was one of the first people to call and congratulate me. She was genuinely interested, asking all about what the role would involve, and I really appreciated her support.

4. In 2002, I was offered the position of Head of News and Sport at Ireland’s first regional youth radio station, Beat 102-103. While I was excited at the prospect of taking on such a new challenge, I was also apprehensive about it. At the time, WLR FM sales executive Michelle Condon and I had become good friends outside of our work at the local station as we both shared a passion for the performing arts and were members of local theatre groups in Waterford. I had confided in Michelle about my nervousness surrounding this new step in my career.

She took me to lunch and spent the hour convincing me that I had what was needed to make the role a success. A month later, I took up the position as Beat’s Head of News and Sport with gusto and enjoyed every minute of it. In 2017, Michelle took a sabbatical from the world of radio but I’m delighted that she has recently returned and the Broadcast Centre gets to reap the benefits of her impressive sales acumen as a result.

5. Over the past seventeen years, we have trained many people at the Broadcast Centre. I’m sure they’ll all forgive me for singling this person out. If you haven’t personally met this individual, then you can’t fully appreciate the unique qualities of the one and only Zara King.

I first met Zara when she was an over-excited intern at WLR. (I had moved on to Beat by that stage of my career.) My initial hesitations about Zara, due to her over eagerness were quickly dispelled when she later joined Beat as a member of the promotions team. I got to witness firsthand a talented, hard-working woman with serious drive. Zara’s creative approach to any project that she undertook, was a breath of fresh air. What follows is one of many examples where Zara demonstrated her ability to shine: a group of us had been working on a major radio station promotion which had required an immense amount of work, with little sleep, in the days leading up to the final. On the afternoon of the finale, I hit a wall mentally and was struggling to muster up the energy to power through.

Zara quickly took hold of the situation and managed to lift everyone’s spirits. We went on to produce a gripping promotion finale that subsequently won us a national radio award. On top of being an amazing colleague to work with, she has a quiet kindness too. I recall working on an Outside Broadcast in Wexford town, one particularly freezing Christmas Eve. Zara arrived on site with mini hot water bottles for all the team working at the OB that day. That’s just how she rolls. I’m immensely proud to watch Zara’s star continue to shine; now on national television as an accomplished reporter with Virgin Media News; working alongside Colette.

6. My father was a well-known businessman in Thurles, having opened the town’s first large supermarket in Liberty Square in the 1960s. Martin Cummins was also old-school in how he expected people to turn up for interview relatively formal and well-groomed. He had passed this expectation on to me. So, when this interviewee walked into my office to be
interviewed for a job at Beat, fresh off the plane from a gap year in Australia, wearing a casual t-shirt and skirt, my initial impression was low. This is a perfect example to highlight that first impressions aren’t always right!

I would classify Mary O’Neill as one of the best news broadcasters in Ireland and she is also credited with being a pivotal part of the success of Beat Breakfast. Mary worked on Beat’s flagship early morning show, for several years. As the strong, independent, female voice on the show, she often put her two male co-hosts in their places in a highly entertaining way! Mary is currently doing a stellar job as breakfast show co-presenter on Beat’s sister station WLR FM.

7. I’ve never actually worked directly with this talented woman, but we’ve worked in the same building for well over a decade. If I walk around the Broadcast Centre and ask people to describe this person, I’m confident the unanimous description would be something like “an immense talent, she gets the job done, a hard worker, good craic and most importantly an all-round nice person”. Roisin Ferris is WLR’s events coordinator and daily, I witness her quietly and efficiently get on with her job. From the outside, it may appear effortless but those of us in the Broadcast Centre can see the hard work she puts in behind the scenes to ensure that every major event Roisin puts her hand to, is a massive success.

8. As a Director of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, I’ve worked with the organization’s Executive Director Lisa Ni Choisdealbha for many years but more recently we’ve collaborated under the “Choose Radio” umbrella. Lisa has been hugely supportive on this committee as we collectively shared a desire to produce events and research which have consistently showcased the power of radio advertising to as wide an audience as possible. In 2017, when Lisa was going on maternity leave, I expected her to ask more experienced colleagues on the board to fill in for her on the planning team for one of the biggest radio conferences in the world, Radiodays Europe. I was shocked and delighted when she asked me if I’d take on the yearlong commitment.

Thanks to Lisa, I had the opportunity to work with senior radio managers from different countries across Europe. As well as making some great industry friends, the experience also afforded me the chance to help shape sessions for the event which have consistently ranked in the top five most popular sessions of the conference ever since.

9. If you need/want to upskill in this business, you need this woman in your life! Teresa Hanratty, Project Manager at Learning Waves; the training network for the commercial radio industry in Ireland. Teresa’s patience is admirable. I know I’m just one of 34 CEOs/PDs who approach her regularly with ideas for various courses. She listens respectfully to all suggestions, engages with us and tries her best to accommodate all requests.

For over a decade, Teresa has been at the helm of this crucial industry resource. Its continued success can largely be attributed to her hard work and her ability to constantly challenge herself to make Learning Waves the best it can be.

10. Margaret Nelson – Group Station Director of FM 104/Q102 at Wireless & winner of the 2018 IMRO Lifetime Achievement award. If truth be told, I was a little intimidated by Margaret when I first met her. She is quite the powerhouse; having held senior executive positions in the most competitive radio market in Ireland and been hugely successful in every role she has undertaken. You don’t achieve this level of success by being a wallflower.

As the more experienced woman in business compared with me, Margaret has always been so supportive, offering words of encouragement whenever we meet. Outside of work too, on a human level, she has shown me basic kindness that will never be forgotten.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 this weekend, I hope I’ve shone a spotlight on just a small sample of the many hundreds of women, doing trojan work in the media industry right across Ireland. It seems poignantly apt to conclude with a thought-provoking question that was previously posed to us by the queen of Irish broadcasting, the late, great Marian Finucane “why shouldn’t the girls get it if the boys are getting it?”

Happy International Women’s Day.



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