Ballymoney’s first lady of radio

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She is bright and bubbly with a passion for her job as presenter of Radio Ulster’s prime afternoon show and despite having worked both home and abroad there is nowhere quite like Ballymoney for Kerry McClean.

Kerry, who turned 40-years old recently, relishes juggling life as a radio personality, being wife to Ralph and mum to Tara and Dan.

“I have totally fallen on my feet, said the Ballymoney radio presenter. “Apart from a part time job when I was growing up I have always worked for the BBC. I celebrated my 40th birthday in my studio and it was only after it dawned on me that it was the same studio I sat in when I was answering the phone for John Bennett’s show and he brought in a cake for me when I was 21-years old.

“John would be the person who has had the greatest influence on my career. His was the first programme I worked on and I learned a very good lesson because he’s funny and smart and very learned. But for him to come across that way on air and come across with a light touch takes an awful lot of hard work. He is a very dedicated man and is very sweet and kind to any young people coming up behind.

“John sits behind me now and I would still turn round and say to him ‘John what do you think about this. He has had a lasting effect on me and the great thing he is still there and is part of my career.”

ROLE MODEL

In life, there is one person who has provided a lasting influence on Kerry.

“My Mum is my ultimate role model. She got married when she was 19 and she had her two kids by the time she was 21. She was a smart intelligent woman and had left school early and had never had the opportunities we have.

“It was my Dad who was only 21 years old then and he said ‘You’re really smart. you should be getting a degree from university’. He signed her up and made her go to university. She ended up getting her degree and then another and another and she is now head of the National Association of Teachers and at the same time she is a very dedicated Mum and Granny and she is a woman who has worked really hard to achieve what she has.”

Even though she has worked hard over the last 21 years, working her way up in the cut throat media business, Kerry still attributes her success to luck.

“I have worked in BBC Scotland in the newsroom, London Today, I’ve worked in the World Service in London and the Ukrainian Service. I then came back home and I was doing continuity work. I have always fallen into my next job and I’ve been really lucky and it’s been quite a rollercoaster ride.

“I did my continuity work when I was having my babies which was perfect and then I gpot a call from someone who said we’re starting a new Saturday morning show, do you want to pilot for it and then from that I got the Saturday morning show and then out of the blue I got a call offering me the afternoon show.

“I absolutely love it. I love music and having people on the phone to have a natter with, it’s just brilliant. On the Saturday show I used to interview celebrities but they are so media trained. I love being able to chat to the listeners and hearing their stories.

“I love to find out about people’s lives and I am quite a nosy person. At times you forget you are on the radio when you are chatting away, its a joy to do.

“My parents and sister all have what I call real, hard jobs where decisions you make affect people’s lives. Whereas the next decision I make is do I play The Pet Shop Boys or Elvis. I get lovely messages or emails or messages on Twitter from people saying you brightened my day or I was having a rough time and that made it a lot nicer and that’s rewarding.”

CAREER ADVICE

With numerous kids setting their sights on a career in the media, Kerry has some very good advice.

“Any media job has dozens of people looking for it because it is such an attractive option. The most important thing to do is to have something that makes you stand out from the crowd. You need to put in years either volunteering at your local newspaper or at school or university setting up a newsletter, volunteering for hospital radio. You have to realise that chances are you will be working for quite some time without getting paid.

“I started out on a training course set up through the volunteers society and I loved it from the first time I picked up a microphone to do a piece on homelessness in Belfast and the thrill of hearing your first piece go out on air had me hooked and I’ve never lost that buzz.

“I do my running order at night time for my show and I still get excited thinking about playing a certain song or getting to talk to someone and I get butterflies before going on air. After I did my initial course I literally wouldnt go away, I worked as a runner in the newsroom for very little money and worked on Children in Need, so being persistent is important.”

It’s obvious to anyone who listens to her show on Radio Ulster that Kerry loves every second she is on air, but is there a job she would really love?

“There is one job in media I would love to do and that is to host Eurovision. I would absolutely love to do that. I love it and always have loved it. I can’t think of anything that I would love more than to sit in that booth with Graham Norton and commentate on it, that would be brilliant!”

At the end of a day on air Kerry comes home to the Toon and she can share her day’s experiences with her husband Ralph.

“My husband Ralph is a radio presenter too and we can have a natter about work. We are also very good about putting work aside and talking about other things. We’re very lucky that we have the same daft sense of humour and we are both at the stage that we had done all our partying and mad times together before we had our kids.”

Despite working in Belfast, Kerry didn’t hesitate for a second when she was deciding where she wanted to bring up her children.

“I have a big big family in Ballymoney and thats why I wanted to come back home. I lived in many places but I knew when my children where born that I wanted them to have the same idyllic childhood that I did. It’s a small, friendly town where I’m related to half the people who live here. We try to go walking as much as possible especially on Castlerock beach. The kids have friends there and we really enjoy taking them there and taking our dog, my hairy baby along with us.

“That was one of the things about moving home. It’s important to have that quality of life, you need to enjoy it, all you can do is be kind to those around you and have a great life.”