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Sunday 21 September 2014

Mid West Radio chief weathers legal storm to stay on top of the charts

Published 06/12/1999 | 00:11

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Brian McDonald traces the rise of Paul Claffey's Mayo radio stationTHE bitterly fought High Court battle between Henry McGlade and Mid West Radio has focussed attention on the sometimes volatile personalities running one of Ireland's most popular radio stations.

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Top-rated Mid West Radio has been the envy of local stations since it acquired a licence to broadcast in the Mayo area in 1989. The secret to its large and loyal listenership: simplicity and professionalism. The management was put in place by shareholders who themselves were rooted in their own uniquely West of Ireland community. These included newspapers The Western People and Connaught Telegraph, Knock Airport, North Connacht Farmers Co-Op, and the Federation of Western Churches.

Chief Executive Paul Claffey, a native of Castlerea, Co Roscommon, has been something of a showman all his life. At the age of 9 he ran the shop at his local swimming pool and was running dances by his early teens. He daringly brought rock groups to places like Boyle in Co Roscommon before going on to manage showbands such as Johnny Carroll'sand The Freshmen.

But after a number of dance-halls he was running in the early 80s failed, Claffey went through a tough time trying to make ends meet before turning to the concept of local radio.

In 1984 Claffey and partner Chris Carroll started the pirate station that was to become Mid West Radio. The pirate built up a strong loyalty and put Claffey in pole position when the licence to broadcast came up for grabs in 1988. Within three years MWR was licensed to broadcast throughout Sligo, North Leitrim and South Donegal.

Today Claffey heads up both Mid West and North West Radio, and he's the star broadcaster on MWR. His morning show, in which he keeps up an unpretentious if sometimes slightly patronising patter, is the most listened-to programme during the week.

There are two other areas in which MWR has struck a significant chord with its audience. Its first-class, award-winning news service is the envy of other local stations. And it blazed a trail by broadcasting the first-ever series of daily death notices on local radio. It was a service that proved invaluable to thousands of families across the West and has since been picked up by virtually every local station. The icing on the cake for the station is that it has also made a commercial success out of death by charging for the notices.

From an initial investment of £150,000, Mid West Radio now has studios in Ballina and Castlebar, along with its main operating centre in Ballyhaunis. North West Radio broadcasts from its headquarters at Market Yard in Sligo town.

Both are unashamedly Western stations; music runs to the C and W or middle-of-the road variety. The formula has helped the careers of several who first sat behind a microphone in Mayo. Annette O'Donnell, Adrian Eames, Chris Clesham and Maria Mullarkey have all come from the West to make the transition to national broadcasters with RTE.

But, with Mid West Radio's dirty linen getting a very public washing in the High Court action heard over 10 days and eventually settled at hearing it may be that not everyone will remember the time spent listening with as much fondness. In court, ex-station manager describes `bullying' boss

IN his action in the High Court, Henry McGlade (49) sought damages against Co. Mayo Radio Ltd, operating as Mid West Radio.

McGlade, of Breaffy, Castlebar was hired as station manager by MWR Chief Executive Paul Claffey in 1989. In evidence he said he was roared at by Claffey when he queried an alleged £10 shortfall in his wage packet

McGlade described himself as upset over the December 1992 incident, and afraid that he would be fired if he made another complaint. The motto of the station, he claimed, was admire or be fired.

McGlade alleged that he was systematically bullied and humiliated by Claffey and that he was close to a nervous breakdown when he resigned in March 1995. The claims were denied by the defendants.

At the confrontation over pay, McGlade said Claffey complained about his punctuality and told him he was very well paid. He roared at McGlade and banged his desk. McGlade said he found the meeting very threatening and left shaking and upset. His doctor prescribed sedatives.

McGlade wept when he recalled how he broke down reading a news bulletin in 1994. He said he had collapsed under the stress and pressure. Following a number of confrontations, he said Claffey told him a lady had made a complaint and gave him an hour to resign or be fired.

After 10 days of evidence, the court was told that the matter had been settled between the parties.

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