Behind the Scenes with… Claire Collins, producer on Newstalk’s Moncrieff show
Behind the Scenes: We meet key Irish and Ireland-based talent working behind the scenes in the TV, film, radio, theatre, and music industries. This week we're chatting to Claire Collins, producer on Moncrieff on Newstalk.
If your interests swing wildly from astrophysics to men who converse with dolphins and everything in between you're probably a Moncrieff show listener.
The Newstalk show, which airs daily from 2-4pm, is a little leftfield, tackling a wide range of topics from politics to physics to travel and TV in its own irreverent way.
If there's a quirky tale hidden in a dark dead end of the web or an offbeat character lurking in the nibs of a national newspaper, the show will chase them down, polish them off and provide ten minutes of radio gold.
It's informative and great craic and the woman manning Sean's ship and putting it all together is producer Claire Collins.
Previously a researcher on the show she has been producing it for the past year and admits it is "absolutely the dream job".
"It’s right up my alley," says the Clare woman (who now lives in Navan). "I love it. I get Sean, he gets me, and we work very well together along with the team. You kind of have to have a certain type of mind. You can’t be offended in any way - if you’re easily offended it’s not for you. You need to have that switch in your brain.
"But it’s so much fun. The team is very much all in each other’s pockets. We’re in the smallest corner of the office, in our own little bubble, with our own jokes. We’re often shouting things at each other that are probably very inappropriate!"
Given the show's content, it takes a nose for the peculiar and a relentless sense of curiosity to keep it ticking over.
They find stories in obscure corners of the internet, by chatting to people on the LUAS or in queues, keeping an eye on the newspapers, listening to podcasts...
"You don't ever switch off," says Claire. "Even on a Saturday we'll screenshot something and run it by each other. Even with a story that's a bit more mainstream we'll ask, 'What's Moncrieff's slant on this?'"
Of Sean, she says, "He's great. We're blessed to have someone with his mind. He gets it. If we suggest a man living as a goat he’ll go, ‘Brilliant’. He understands why that man might want to live as a goat. He doesn’t take much convincing.
"Or we'll say, 'There’s a man who talks to dolphins' and he's on board. He takes it seriously. He does a proper interview. There’s a man in Canada who goes around in a Batman suit and stops crime and Sean did a serious interview with him. That’s why it works I think."
With ten hours a week to fill with quality content, however, comes a certain amount of pressure.
"There’s a certain amount of expectation from the listener that they’re going to get the weird and wonderful and the most obtuse thing so there is pressure to make sure you do fulfil that," reveals Claire.
However, often the listeners provide content themselves.
"One of our most popular slots is the parenting slot and listeners would send us straightforward questions but also weirder stuff like 'My daughter hates the colour yellow, how do we make her love the colour yellow?'" she says.
Some of the most challenging but enjoyable days are the outside broadcasts.
"They're always tricky to produce and we always try and make them a bit different for the audience there and for the listeners at home," says Claire.
"One of the weirder ones I produced was our Nude Show where every audience member and guest was naked, like fully naked - not even a sock in sight. Sixty naked people all sitting in front of you leaves a lasting memory. Squeezing past people in the room proved tricky so it was important to keep your hands above waist level!
"Even all production staff wore robes and just got into the spirit of it all. Sean was a great sport and wore a nude suit for it. It's one show I’m likely to never forget!"
The path to becoming a radio producer was a rather random one for Claire, who had studied English and History and planned on becoming a teacher.
A chance meeting with a woman who produces for RTE who offered her two weeks work experience changed the course of her career.
"I was working at a call centre in Limerick at the time and I remember saying, ‘Will I just do it? Will I just quit my job and hope it works out?’ and that was six years ago and I haven't looked back since," she says.
"It was completely by chance. A lot of people come from journalism and radio backgrounds so I came in with a different head. I worked in RTE for about a year and a half and I remember Marian Finucane saying, ‘Where did you come from?’ and when I told her she said, ‘Brilliant, I’m delighted you’re not coming from a journalism course. She said people come in and they’re taught a certain way, how to approach things. So it was a bit different with me."
When she joined Newstalk, Claire worked freelance, flitting between shows from breakfast to Tom Dunne, for about a year before she applied for the researcher role on Moncrieff.
Her advice for people thinking of a career in radio is to have passion and to realise it's not glamorous.
"People have this idea that working in the media is the most glamorous job in the world, that you're forever sent free things, but it's not as simple as that," she says.
"If you’re coming in with the right attitude and have the interest you'll do well. And don’t expect it to be a thrill every day. Some days are hard. Some days there are no items out there to put on air and you just have to be creative.
"But it can be the most rewarding thing in the world, especially when you’re starting out as a researcher and you get those first two or three items to air."
These days it's not just about radio, she says, but about knowing how an item will work digitally too.
"Can we make a fun video for Facebook about something, can we snap it, will it work for Newstalk.com?" says Claire.
"Sure Movies and Booze trends nearly every week on Twitter so asking yourself can you do similar things with other interviews? So the job is harder in that it’s not just one medium any more."
Hard as it is, Claire, Sean and the team must be doing something right - the show had attracted 11,000 new listeners in the last JNLRs.
"You’re biting your nails and chewing your toes with nerves ahead of [the JNLR figures being released] and just hope that people are listening," she says.
"It's hard to tell but we hope what we’re doing is right and I think we’re on a good track. We know what people are looking for and we get to bring it to life for them. It’s such a laugh. It’s tough, but excellent!"