You know how sometimes you just can't get a song out of your head? Radio producer Richie Beirne can sympathize.
Before finding the airwaves, he worked on the killing lines in meat factories around Ireland, and was plagued by a few "ear worms" that he just couldn't chase away. Now those songs vividly represent a certain time in his life, and as far as he can tell -- they always will.
Meat Factory Ear Worms was edited by Ronan Kelly.
Richie Beirne was born in the west of Ireland and has been has been working in radio for over ten years. He's produced several documentaries, features, and series, and worked across all parts of the RTE Radio 1 schedule. Before finding radio, his past lives included working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, a chef, a butcher in several meat factories throughout Ireland and a comedian. Currently Richie is on The Arts Show on RTE RADIO 1.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Richie Beirne (featuring a cameo from Ronan Kelly)
What inspired you to produce Meat Factory Ear Worms?
I have worked in so many different areas before coming to radio -- as a chef, a security guard, in construction, and I am really interested in the time we spend at work. I had worked in loads of meat factories, as at the time Ireland was mainly an agricultural economy and having grown up on a farm it seemed the natural progression to work there. What I didn’t mention in the piece was that I had dropped out of college, left home and had just returned home after three years -- prodigal son wise -- and was trying to make up with my family. I needed a job and that [working in the meat factory] was all I felt I could do. It was a very sad part of my life. I felt like an automaton, that I had no choice in my destiny.
I worked like a demon in that factory and I don’t know why or where those songs came from. I mean I don’t particularly like them but they are the ones I associate with that time. I had recordings made in stereo from the factory with interviews with some of the lads that were still there from the time I was there but I had moved on and they were still stuck there and I used to play the Joker when I was there to fit in. To be liked. I was very popular. But now there was nothing to say. So in the end the sounds were all that were used and the script I wrote.
The earworm phenomenon is common to others working away in factories or other repetitive jobs. (Or administering radio festivals, for that matter.) Have you heard from listeners who can relate to it directly?
I used to work another show and I did a half hour on The Dave Fanning Show on RTE RADIO 1, about those songs that you just can’t get out of your head (cue Kylie Minogue -– I Can’t Get You Out of My Head). We had a professor from the U.S. and two guests in studio. The text response to the show was phenomenal. One of the best moments I ever had on radio -- pure magic! Earworms are like a cognitive itch in your brain that won’t be satisfied till you hear that chorus. Its why poppy songs are so successful. So that response inked in very easily into the Meat Factory story.
Can you talk about the lively production elements of the piece? Sounds like you had a lot of FUN making it.
With just speech and fx [sound effects] there had to be a bit of trickery involved. Ronan Kelly was the man behind all of that -- I was too close. The stories I told are stories I have told a thousand times before in bars in casual conversation. Its like how a stand-up comedian practices all his lines on the audience, his family members, friends, whomever, till he has it nailed. I'm always doing that, pushing for reaction, like a child almost but f*!# -- its fun. It’s who I am.
All right then, Ronan? Your thoughts about the production? How'd this story come to be?
Ronan Kelly: It was a bit like Catholic confession. Richie went into studio on his own, read some script, paraphrased a bit and sang to himself. Then I took the whole lot and added fx and music and stitched it together. He didn't want to talk about it or discuss it or listen to it before broadcast. He thought he was bored with the story, then when he heard it go out on air he became very emotional because it brought back memories of what was a difficult time. An interesting case of producer as listener as well as programme-maker.
Thanks! Back to Richie, now.
How'd you make the transition from meat factory worker to radio producer?
I was so frustrated at the series of cul de sacs that I found myself constantly squirming around in. What I did to cope was read. I had always read since I was six years of age. I loved books and the options and hope they gave me. I also loved English and so I applied to get a degree in English and, much to my relief, I got in. It was very daunting, as my self-esteem was zero and I had already failed at the college thing once before. So I was in a heap about it all but once I went I hoovered everything up. The whole college experience, lectures, books, I couldn’t get enough. I bloomed and exploded for those three years. Then I did a post grad in media, and entered a national competition for documentaries. For that I made a documenatry about the relationship between my father and I, which was 40 minutes of silence (there you go -- another line well-practiced) and it went from there.
Was it your intention that the songs in Meat Factory Ear Worms would become Earworms for listeners?! (Thanks a lot!)
Not really. They are mine and earworms are very personal relating to your own experience and the stage you are at in your own life. What is so magical about radio is all you need is to give a song or a sound a context and the song or sound recorded can take you into a whole new dimension and level of understanding. I really hope that people get that from the piece and that my ego doesn’t overshadow the rest but I think Ronan did such a fantastic job on the edit that he limited that.
Your donation to the Third Coast International Audio Festival makes it possible for us to share creative and compelling radio stories with listeners across the globe, and to champion the ever-growing community of producers who bring this incredible work our way.