(Since this article was published in 2003 Mike’s father John has passed away. But Mike still has links with the West of Ireland, has a house near Castlebar in County Mayo and is now an Irish citizen.)
Irish culture has permeated most areas of the media over the years and radio has proved to be no exception.The likes of Henry Wymbs and Bob Brolly have built up loyal followings over the two past decades for their programmes broadcast on BBC local radio and other shows, using similar formulas, have started to spring up on broadcasting outlets up and down Britain.
All of these programmes revolve around a friendly presenter delivering requests and dedications, interspersed with interviews with the likes of Brendan Shine, on a weekly basis to the delight of the large and dedicated audiences, often extending beyond the Irish immigrant population.
Second-generation Irishman Mike Ganley is another veteran broadcaster who has attracted a loyal following wherever he has ventured onto the airwaves, but what he now offers his audience on digital station Swindon FM is a world away from what listeners to Messrs Wymbs and Brolly would expect His two-hour Sunday afternoon programme 'The Crooked Road' can best be described as an amalgam of what Mike Harding and Bob Harris offer on their specialist Folk and New Country shows each week on BBC Radio 2 with odd elements of blues and jazz added for good measure
Those comparisons seem rather apt as the music - as opposed to the voice behind the microphone - is the main focus of attention whenever the 47 year-old broadcaster ventures into the Wiltshire studio Calm, but authoritative about what he is playing when he opens the fader, Mike is focussed very much on the present day as he examines new musical trends and reviews new albums just ahead of their impending release or shortly after they go on sale And although artistes such as Emmylou Harris regularly feature on Mike's playlist, his programme can boast around 70 per cent comprises traditional music with a heavy Irish element in its content.
“Anyone expecting to hear Daniel O'Donnell on the programme would be disappointed," explained Mike. "Not because he isn't a good singer - he is a very fine performer - but he could not be classed as a traditional-style musician "On the other hand, the Chieftains is more typical of the kind of music that typifies what the programme is all about. By the same token, certain tracks from the Corrs have made it onto the playlist In fact Mike has conducted numerous interviews with Paddy Moloney, the leader of the long acclaimed Irish outfit, and Paul Brady. Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash have also been quizzed in recent weeks
"What possibly differentiates my programme from the Irish shows broadcast on BBC local radio is where it is pitched in terms of the average age of the listener," explained Mike "The average person tuned into 'The Crooked Road' is, broadly speaking, more likely to be in their 30s or 40s, whereas a slightly older age group would be attracted to the other type of programme "Furthermore, my programme is not aimed at an exclusive Irish audience - it the style of music, rather than its ethnic origin that provides the attraction.
Born in Trowbridge, Mike is the son of a Mayo father, John, who emigrated there from his native Ballyhaunis with several of his brothers to Wiltshire during the 1930s. His father, now 86, still lives in the town His deep interest in music can be traced back to his days at university in Coventry where he ran the folk club with a fellow student called Steve Knightly, later to become part of the successful duo 'Show of Hands' During this time he took his first tentative steps into broadcasting with the local Hospital Radio station.
Mike later worked for Radio West in Bristol - now part of the GWR chain - carrying out a variety of roles including commercial and programme production A brief foray into television in the West Country followed. Mike worked alongside the likes of David Attenborough on Nature series at the BBC and later joined Aardman Productions where he worked on the first Wallace and Gromit film But the urge to move on soon came as he felt that "sound was playing second fiddle in a visually-dominated environment"
Academia then entered his c.v. through a career as a media lecturer, but a return to the airwaves eventually came after he joined the consortium that eventually landed the commercial radio franchise for the Stroud area During the intervening years Mike had developed a keen interest in both the music and radio scenes in Ireland on several trips back to his roots, where he was involved in training staff at a number of new Irish stations that had sprung up after more liberal broadcasting laws had been passed by the Dail
The 'Crooked Road' programme style had already been developed by Tim Denehay on Clare FM. Mike contacted Tim in Ennis for permission to use the format when he took on the role of a specialist music presenter at 107 FM - The Falcon in Gloucestershire "Although I had done a number of traditional music programmes on several RSL (temporary) radio stations, this was just the sort of vehicle that I felt was needed for the type of radio show I wanted to present in Stroud," said Mike "It was (and remains) very similar in content to many traditional music programmes being aired on Irish radio stations. The same trend is also evident on North American radio, where 'The Thistle and The Shamrock' is amongst the most respected amongst the traditional music type of programmes.
When The Falcon became absorbed into part of a larger media group, he
left the station and moved the short journey to Swindon where he married his wife, Gill. Mike added: "I'd done nothing but eat, breath and sleep radio for years, so I took a sideways move into IT with the local council" But the sabbatical did not last long. When Swindon FM started its first trial broadcasts, Mike was to be found behind the mixing desk The station gained a permanent digital license earlier this year and Mike took over the 4-6 pm slot on Sunday afternoons Mike has also put down more permanent roots in Mayo after the couple acquired what he describes as: "a highly distressed cottage, not far from Castlebar" "Work on the property is now almost complete and the effort has been well worthwhile. The view is just spectacular and it has a lovely tranquil setting But for the next month Mike won't have a chance to take in the breath taking Connaught scenery as he doubles his output on the airwaves by broadcasting a second helping of 'The Crooked Road' on Town Talk 105.8FM - the temporary station serving Devizes - between 7 and 9pm every Tuesday evening
(© Peter Foley (NUJ) 9 July, 2003 This article first appeared in the Irish Post in their edition for the week ending Saturday 26 July, 2003)