When radio producer and broadcaster, Katie Finnegan, left Galway Bay FM after 16 years, it came as a shock to listeners and industry insiders. After all, Katie had grown up at the station. And, in the later part of her career, she was stepping into her father’s shoes as the stand-in presenter of the Keith Finnegan show. In essence, she was the powerhouse behind his Galway Talks. This well known daily weekday talk show brings local news, chat, and lively debate into the homes of those – not only across the city and county – but also internationally.
Katie and Keith:
As producer at Galway Talks, Katie was responsible for the smooth running of the three-hour show, which was no mean feat when it is broadcast live on air. For instance, she researched the content for each programme, ensuring the topics were engaging and relevant, while maintaining a level of empathy and care towards their on-air guests.
In fact, her passion for journalism drove her to the forefront as she took over hosting duties when needed and presented her own ‘The Week in Current Affairs’ show on Galway Bay FM every Saturday morning.
Moving on from Galway Bay FM:
Fortunately, I had the chance to work with Katie during my time as part of the Galway Bay FM team. As a result, I honestly never envisaged a day when she would bid a fond farewell to the place that shaped the person she is now. She began her career at the station as a 15-year-old, working on reception at weekends. Prior to that, she spent her summers “running around the place”. Since then, has grasped every opportunity to work in each of the different departments at the station.
Initially, her move to take up a position as digital marketing executive at the newly formed Atlantic Technological University came as a surprise – even to herself. While Katie loved every moment of working with her father, it came with challenges. Katie is an expert in her field, with an MA in Journalism and an MA in Digital Communication and Media from NUI, Galway. With such vast experience and qualifications, she knew she had to move out from under the title of being known as ‘Keith Finnegans’ daughter’.
“I always thought it would be the two of us until he finished the show at Galway Bay FM,” explains Katie. “It was fantastic working with him. I grew up in that building and it was more a home to me than anywhere else. We spent our summers in his office downstairs, and that eventually became my office. I always looked up to him, I wanted to be just like him – and I got my wish.We got into our own little groove. It was lovely to work with him. Keith always told me not to go into journalism. He felt there wasn’t any money in it. Of course, what did I do? I followed him.”
During our interview, Katie refers to her father as ‘Keith’ rather than ‘Dad’. Effectively, this subtle differentiation highlights the path she has had to navigate in terms of her professional career at Galway Bay FM, making the distinction between his role as broadcaster and former CEO of the company, and their father-daughter relationship. “It was my biggest obstacle,” she says.
“Being the bosses’ daughter was really tough. Firstly, it didn’t matter that I had studied at university. Secondly, it didn’t matter that I had lots of experience. When it came down to it, I was always Keith Finnegan’s daughter. It is very hard to prove yourself. Luckily, I had to, and I did overcome it. In light of this, a turning point came when I presented the show. Afterwards, the positive feedback from listeners was genuine. At last, it was lovely that people could finally see me as someone separate from Keith. All things considered, there was a sense of ‘hold on, she can actually do this’. And it really made a difference.
A Sense of Trust:
Over the years working together, the Katie and Keith duo developed a sense of trust with each other. Not only that, but this extended to their Galway Bay FM listeners and those who took part in the show. Consequently, the number of lives they have influenced cannot be underestimated. Specifically, an average of 14 guests per day take part in the radio broadcast. In light of this, the reach is extensive, between the on-air programme and podcasts. A key to her success as a producer was not to sensationalise – rather to craft each story with purpose and humanity. “You have to trust the person behind the window,” she says, “as well as to develop that same level of trust with our listeners.
“The fact that we are related and share the same name allowed people to trust the two of us. For instance, a lot of the stories that came to us would not be broadcast. Essentially, people come to us for help, whether it’s to access a bed for a night. Or another example is if they are in any sort of difficulty, we would help them to access the right services. Needless to say It wouldn’t end up on air. We wouldn’t sensationalise. It would be sorted out behind the scenes.
As journalists, we are taught about the need for balance and right of reply. But Katie’s sense of responsibility, and kindness, ensured she would never compromise for the sake of a headline. Consequently, her advice to anyone entering the field is to stay curious. Stories can arise from any conversation or observation and the ability to find the right angle for your audience is the mark of achievement.
“You need to be curious,” she explains. “In reality, you need to have an interest and you are never off. Essentially, anything you see could be a story. Above all, I hate the impression that journalists are always looking for a cut-throat story. For this line of work, you have to have a heart. In fact, you have to care about what you say and what the person could be going through. For instance, journalists must have the ability to stop and think how this might affect someone. Importantly, don’t look to sensationalise. In reality, every story is fleeting and it’s not worth ruining a life for.”
Perhaps the greatest indicator of Katie’s journalistic style is the two highlights she has as she looks back on her time with Galway Bay FM. Firstly, celebrating 100 years of St Brigid’s Terrace in Galway city and secondly, the radiothon in aid of Cancer Care West and Galway Hospice.
“We went to the pub with the locals of St Brigid’s Terrace as they shared their stories,” she says. “It was such a highlight as it shows how everyone has a tale to tell. On the other side of the scale, the radiothon was one of our biggest undertakings. Beforehand, Keith spent weeks on the road interviewing those affected by cancer. Then we broadcast for three days from An Taibhearc in the city. During the shows, the whole Galway community rallied together. At the end, when he read out the amount raised, he became so emotional he started to cry. As you can imagine, I will never forget it.”
The Election Campaigns:
Like all journalists, Katie is not immune to the thrill of an election count. As a result, she cites it as one of her favourite experiences. While the work involved was immense, and the pressure of the live election debates is renowned, she “absolutely loved it”. Particularly, she enjoyed getting out into the community.
“It felt like a production,” she says.
“Of course it was tiring. With election debates, we must be so careful to take note of how long each candidate speaks for – down to the second. In this way, each one must be given equal opportunity. To achieve this, we have to ensure the quieter candidates have their moment too. Behind the scenes, I would have two phones on the go, counting every moment. Consequently, it was my favourite part of the job.”
Not What It Seems:
With such passion for the role, I had to delve further into why she made the leap at this point. Perhaps securing the top slot as a stand in for her father in his absence gave her the confidence to start afresh. After embracing every opportunity the station had to offer – from the reception counter to the newsroom, engineering to producer – she had exhausted the chance for learning upon which she thrives. While an encounter with ICE head Margaret Cox opened a new door, Katie was dealing with deeper personal issues, which allowed her to take a closer look at her life.
“A lot has happened to me over the last three years,” she says as she talks candidly about her mental health.
“To be honest, from a mental health point of view I wasn’t in a good place over the last six to seven years. The reality is I was functioning, but not living. At the radio station, I felt I had to be perfect all the time. On top of that, I felt that no-one should see how much I was struggling. Everything is not what it seems.”
Mental Health Matters:
Katie noticed her mental health began to decline at university when she was without the structure of the school system. Because of this, she sought and finally gained, the help she needed. Thanks to counselling and the right medication, the clouds began to lift.
“It threw me for a loop,” she explains. “I was in a really bad place for a long time. In essence, I was living under a rock. And I wasn’t happy. I struggled hugely in college. Consequently, I didn’t get back on track until two years ago. It was only then that I started to have a bit of belief in myself. This happened when I started to present the programme for the first time. At some point, the penny dropped. In light of this, I stopped caring about what other people thought of me.
“I know this is all relative. You can’t compare someone’s life to another. It has been hard, it has been tough, but it has also been the wake up call I needed. I am now in a good place.”
A Fresh Start:
While interviewing Margaret Cox about ICE’s move to the four-day week, a seed was planted. In that instance, Katie realised that, while she enjoyed working on Galway Talks, she jokes that Keith “wasn’t going anywhere”. It was time to find her feet in a new environment. She moved briefly to ICE before joining the marketing team at the Atlantic Technological University – formerly GMIT – and she plans to “stay there forever”. And now she has joined the organisation at an exciting time.
“I was only in the role for one month when the new ATU emerged, joining eight campuses to form one university. Consequently, I realise how amazing it is. The impact is that students don’t need to leave home to attend university. Now there are so many locations to access from across the northwest. In addition, the courses are so practical and hands on. As a result, it is very applied. Additionally, I work with a wonderful bunch of people. Also, I find it amazing to be surrounded by really strong women.”
For the first time, Katie is enjoying the benefits of working 9-5. Disciplined to an early bird routine thanks to the demands of her former job, she has channelled that energy into going to the gym every morning.
This is another new endeavour, and she is reaping the rewards. In addition, she is also discovering the disadvantages of rush hour traffic.
For Katie, there is a freedom to following her own path. She laughs as she describes how she is now known as ‘Joan Finnegans’ daughter’. In essence, this is a nod to her mother’s career as a successful artist after graduating with a BA in Fine Art from the Centre for Creative Arts and Media.
Consequently, the family ties that bind continue to influence Katie. Her own artistic ability is expressed through her Katie’s Cakes business. “I have always loved baking,” she says.
The Science of Baking:
I baked with my mom and my two grannies. Luckily, I’ve always had an artistic streak. My mom is an artist and my grandad is a painter. Also I love to eat! In light of this, it made sense that my art would be expressed through food. I am a perfectionist and I stay up all night until I get it right.”
Katie’s Cakes and Cards:
Katie could easily have pursued a career as a baker, but for her, the part-time hobby turned business will stay just that. “I love it too much,” she says, “and if I take it on as a job it could take away the enjoyment.
“I bake an awful lot and I have no-one to feed. Because of this, I will often ring mom and ask her how many
people she needs to feed in work! Effectively, they are my audience. In reality, it’s how I relax. Also, I enjoy the cleaning up as much as I enjoy baking. During baking, you can only focus on what you are doing, and it has to be right. It’s science. For instance, I have had quite a lot of red velvet cakes explode! But I find it very therapeutic
Penny for Your Thoughts:
Katie has also a firm companion in her MADRA rescue dog, aptly
named Penny. Penny keeps her grounded. When speaking of Penny she says “if I could turn my home into a rescue centre, I would.
“We don’t deserve dogs. This is because they are nicer to us than most humans.”
Penny’s influence is such that Katie wants to develop a line of dog cakes in the future. And she has another string to her bow, designing greeting cards that have found a place for sale at the Treebark store in Moycullen.
With such a wealth of talent, it is hard to believe she still suffers from what she describes as ‘imposter syndrome’. But with a bright future ahead, it looks as though Katie Finnegan has found her niche, in all of its different guises.