Student Issues

What It’s Like To Volunteer For The Nation’s Favourite Festive Radio Station

For many around Ireland, Christmas begins with the launch of Christmas FM – I’m sure I am not the only one who has the station permanently tuned to one of the pre-saved buttons on my car radio! Granted for 11 months of the year it’s nothing but white noise, but it goes against the grain to delete it. We decorate our houses and then neatly store the decorations for the rest of the year; we don’t just throw them in the bin once Little Christmas has come and gone. So knowing that my car has a little spot reserved for Christmas all year round is enough to make everyone aware that I am a big fan of Christmas. So it was of no surprise that I ended up being a part of Christmas FM.
I have listened to Christmas FM since it hit the airwaves in 2008 and always said ‘I must get in touch with them and offer my services’. It almost became a running joke, like when you meet an old friend and you say ‘we’ll have to organise a coffee or a pint soon’. Of course you do want to meet up but, much like everything, life gets in the way. It’s also not just as easy as a phone call to Christmas FM HQ to say you want to be involved. They have a very slick operation and have been perfecting it for years, so it’s crucial that they pick a vibrant team who are technically capable AND are bonkers about Christmas.
So scrolling through Facebook one day I saw a post about a DJ training course with Christmas FM, where you will you leave with a Demo and you learn how to produce and present radio programmes. What a great way to upskill I thought, and then I saw that they use these courses to expand their Christmas FM team. And so I signed up for a course in that summer.
If you happened to see 12 people in Christmas jumpers in the middle of July 2016, I was one of them. It’s always Christmas in Christmas FM so when we were creating our own Demos and programmes, we were encouraged to come in festive attire. Everyone got into the spirit of things, it’s difficult not to when you are in the station. We had mince pies for our tea break, tins of sweets to give us the sugar rush for the day and one of the group even emerged from the small studio fully dressed as Mrs Claus – it was so much fun. Inside the walls of Christmas FM you feel like every day is Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t long after the training weekend I got a call from the station to asked if I would be interested in voicing the charity partners stings. They are the clips you hear giving the listener the facts about the charity that the station has chosen and calling for donations. Most memorably the ‘This is Lisa’s Story’ part. I was happy to get involved in any way I could so I quickly agreed. It’s heart breaking when you read the stark facts all in one go. The reality of the work these charities do tirelessly throughout the year is a real inspiration. And to help them in a tiny way at Christmas felt really good. Not only is the station raising much needed funds, it’s raising awareness each year.
While my recorded voice was on the main station calling listeners to donate, I was also on Global Christmas FM, a 24hr station that broadcasted all over the globe last year, online. Being a 24hr station means there is always someone in Christmas FM, the kettle is always on and the Christmas tree is always sparkling. Some of the broadcasts for Global were pre-recorded so it meant that all of the Global Elves needed to book studio time round the clock. Most of my pre-records were done from 5-8am, you’d enter the booth and there would be a skeleton staff and when you emerged at 8am Christmas FM would be a hive of activity. Making sure traffic and travel was up to date nationwide – with thanks to AA Road Watch and ensuring that text message and email dedications were compiled and read on air. Every time someone texts a dedication to Christmas FM they make a donation to their Charity Partner, which this year is Sight Savers.
One of the other fun jobs I was tasked with at in my first year in Christmas FM was to record children reading letters to Santa. Being a teacher for performing arts school, at the very mention of ‘Christmas FM’, all kids were extremely excited to get involved. And with Santa Hats on in the middle of October, they set about recording letters to be broadcast on Ireland’s favourite festive radio station. It was such an exciting project to be involved with and the kids recording the letters knew how magical the station was, but they also knew that the station was there to help people, some of those people were kids their own age.
So when I hear people ask if Radio is important any more I say yes, yes it is! Just look at the power of Christmas FM. Radio is a personal medium, when you speak into the mic you are talking to the person listening at home, work or in the car. I think DJs have a unique relationship with listeners and there will always be room for that connection in our daily lives. The kids I worked with got excited when their parents sent a text to mention their names on the radio and giggled (like I still do) when they were read out. But they also knew that among all the magic and dedications, at the heart of Christmas FM was a mission to help some of the most vulnerable in society. I think that is why so many people tune into Christmas FM, it brings Christmas cheer and joy but it also gives the listener the opportunity to help those less fortunate than themselves.
One of the most overwhelming things about Christmas FM is the volume of Christmas songs, I heard songs I never even knew existed while waiting for my personal favourites to come around. I would almost be caught singing along to the original Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” if there were on during any programmes I presented. But really they are all special, it’s hard to get bored of Christmas songs when you are working in the closest place you get to the North Pole without borrowing a reindeer.