Radio producer and broadcaster JJ Clarke is a student of Ballyfermot College of Further Education (BCFE). JJ honed his broadcasting skills on an Erasmus+ VET work placement in a radio station in Finland in February 2020. To mark World Radio Day 2021, Léargas Communications Officer Niamh McClelland spoke to JJ about the impact of the Erasmus+ VET placement on his college work, career path and creating content for Irish listeners.
What comes to mind when you think of radio? Connection? Comfort? Community? A combination of all three? Something different entirely? According to the last JNLR results on listenership in Ireland, 3.19 million listeners (15+) tune into radio every weekday which is daily radio listening at 81% of all adults, so it certainly means much to many, not least JJ Clarke, who is currently carving out a career on national and international airwaves.
Even a brief conversation with the BCFE student reveals his innate love of radio, as both a creator and a listener. When it comes to radio's evolution, the impact of lockdown, or simply his own programme preferences, JJ is tuned in on every level! Our conversation is full of terms like 'theatre of the mind' and 'blended sounds', as well as phrases like 'ambient noise', 'background hum' and 'passive listening'. All indicate an intrinsic understanding of radio's varying roles and power. With his instinct for broadcasting as a backdrop, JJ explores the impact Erasmus+ had on his experience of studying and working, and why he believes VET and radio make an ideal marriage.
"VET definitely improves you," he tells me. "Working in a professional setting for me, it's just like, there are few excuses made! It has to be done by this time. There’s such an impetus to do really good work. The edges are very well defined, and I really liked that."
"There’s such an impetus to do really good work."
JJ, who has since returned to BCFE and is currently working on his thesis, travelled to Finland for three weeks in February 2020. Alongside one other radio student, he began his placement in the country's national broadcaster YLE.
"That’s like their RTE," he explains. "I thought beforehand we would just be piggybacking or shadowing experts, and we would be learning off them. But they gave us equipment and said ‘We want you to describe, for our podcast in three weeks, what it’s like to be an Erasmus+ student. Interview whoever you want. We can help you, but go do that.'"
JJ instantly saw the merit in the station's approach to VET placements, musing: "It’s a situation where, you know, if you have aspirations, but don’t have deadlines, they can exist there without any push - forever."
Tasked with producing a package for the station's podcast, All Points North, JJ researched, interviewed and delivered by the deadline. Along the way, he noted and ultimately absorbed the work ethic displayed by members of the YLE team - a work ethic he now employs in his own endeavours on the Irish airwaves.
"Across the board, they’re very focused on quality so there’s no way you can’t, through osmosis, pick up a good bit of it," JJ says. "They’re the best at what they do, that’s why they have that job. There’s no bigger station, they have their own license. There’s a reason they have that and they’re not number 2 or number 3. You’re almost inspired by really good quality workers. I’d really like to be that person in a work setting; doesn’t get stressed, puts really good work together, and is also pleasant to be around."
JJ was tasked with producing a package for the station's podcast, All Points North
From best procedures to style and delivery, JJ returned to Ireland with a wealth of practical and stylistic insights, which he immediately put to good use in his own career.
"I make packages for Newstalk; little docs," he tells me, and offers an example. "The Luke Kelly statue in Dublin kept getting vandalised. So, I did a little piece on the roots of vandalism, and then interviewed a friend of Luke Kelly, and then the people who remove the graffiti. And that style of telling stories came directly from my experience in Finland because they have a kind of NPR (National Public Radio) style."
Reflecting further on his approach to the Luke Kelly package, JJ added: "That was directly from the work experience, the hands-on way. This is how [YLE] tell stories and I found it to be a really interesting way to tell stories."
JJ not only credits those involved in his VET placement for his nuanced approach to storytelling, but for their support of active learning - something he feels he will benefit from for years to come.
"I wouldn’t have learned that if it was just ‘JJ, will you just get the coffees or will you file this or do an admin job'.” We’ll [YLE] give you supervision, but we’ll make sure that you learn what the standards are here at YLE and what we accept. I really incorporated it into my style and it paid dividends."
"That style of telling stories came directly from my experience in Finland."
With all that said, it's hardly surprising that the Erasmus+ VET placement 'definitely exceeded' JJ's expectations, but its success doesn't exist in a vacuum. Indeed, he is confident that his placement last year will positively impact his future.
"The experience itself was great, but then also afterwards having that body of work there that I can point to and say: “Listen, I worked in a foreign market. This is what we put together.'" he says. "Even over there, the experience of working with the state broadcaster, it means that people are really receptive to work that you do."
"I’ve looked for work experience overseas, and there's been two or three occasions where they’ve recognised YLE. They perhaps didn't know the Irish market, but they know who YLE is so that was really beneficial for me."
"VET definitely exceeded my expectations."
Contact Elva Duggan or Tomas Bulnes more information on Erasmus+ VET.
Images courtesy of JJ Clarke.