A journalist with over 25 years’ experience, Helen Carroll is best known as a presenter on Ear to the Ground, RTÉ Television’s Farming and Food programme. She has produced, presented, reported and researched on national radio and television for both RTÉ and TV3. Her work in the print media has seen her write news, features, reviews and a weekly column for both local and national publications.
1n 1988, Helen attended the College of Journalism in Rathmines, Dublin. Straight after graduation, she landed her first job in RTÉ, where she worked on Aertel, RTÉ's teletext service. Aertel was cutting edge at the time and only seized operating this week.
She went on to work on popular RTÉ television shows such as ‘Gerry Ryan Tonight’, ‘Kenny Live’, ‘Winning Streak’, as well as ‘Radio Sport’, ‘Up for the Match’, and ‘Primetime’.
Helen joined TV3 when it started in 1998 and began broadcasting in their sports’ department. She was 27 years old at the time and it seemed like an exciting opportunity. She had been freelancing with RTÉ for a long time, so it wasn't like she was leaving a permanent job.
Helen is originally from the Granges Road in Kilkenny. She lived in Dublin since she left for college. In 2001 she returned to her roots and moved back to Kilkenny with her husband Peter McKenna. Peter is from Dublin and is a script writer. They have two children – Katie (18) and Luke (7).
Here is a glimpse into Helen’s world…
Describe your typical day filming RTÉ’s popular TV show ‘Ear to the Ground’
Morning: It's usually a very early start as I could be travelling to anywhere in the country. As we mostly film over the winter months I could be emptying the kettle over a frozen windscreen before hopping in and turning the heating on full blast. Once I arrive at the location - 9 times out of 10 it's a farm - its a cup of tea, if I'm lucky something home baked and a quick chat before we start filming.
Midday: By midday I'm glad of that home baking because we don't always get to stop for lunch. We try to film outside as much as possible so we're battling the elements and fading light. Sometimes stopping for a break isn't an option.
Evening: Heading home in the car, relying on google maps to get me there. And hoping someone has the dinner ready!
Helen, you moved back to Kilkenny in 2001. Why?
I was pregnant in 2001 and wanted to move home to be closer to family. However that meant giving up work. The three things you shouldn't do all together – move house, change jobs and have a baby. I did them all in the space of three weeks!
Why give up work?
Working in television, a similar job in Kilkenny wasn't really an option. But I had been freelancing as a journalist for so long, I figured (hoped!) something would pop up.
Did something pop up?
Yes I went back to RTÉ when Katie was two years old. Mairead McGuinness left ‘Ear to Ground’ for politics and I was asked to do a screen test. That was 16 years ago and I never looked back.
Ear to the Ground is one of RTÉ’s longest running shows?
After the Late Late Show it's one of the longest running shows on RTÉ. We've just celebrated our 27th Anniversary.
Why do you think it’s so popular?
I think it’s so popular because farming and food are probably Ireland's most important industries. Most people in Ireland have a connection with farming, if you go back far enough. That's why so many of them tune in. They also enjoy the show because we feature people who aren't usually on TV. Not the usual spokespeople and politicians.
What’s your role on the show?
We're on air for 16 weeks in autumn and winter, although we do some filming during late summer and early spring. There are three reporters, I do one report each week - this takes one day of filming and one day editing, each report lasts seven to eight minutes.
Have you a farming background?
My dad is from a dairy farm in Lisdowney and was an Agricultural advisor in ACOT.
RTÉ is in crisis mode at the moment. What’s your take on what’s happening?
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. Advertising revenue is way down and fewer people are watching live TV so something has to give. It’s a pity because I think we really are underestimating the importance of public service broadcasting.
When you are not on Ear to the Ground, what do you do?
MC and moderating work, which I love because I am constantly meeting new people. Otherwise I am at home full time with the kids.
It’s your first year presenting the Kilkenny Chamber Awards. How do you prepare for something on that scale?
Keep it relaxed and informal and be conscious it’s also a night of celebration for people.
Mary Kennedy has presented the awards for the past five years. Has she giving you any tips?
Mary hasn’t given me any tips. She has given me big shoes to fill though!
We normally see you in the wellies, have you the sequins ready for Saturday night?
Wellies and jeans are my go to so the hardest part of the awards is finding and wearing the dress.
Are you looking forward to it?
Yes. The Kilkenny Business Awards (#KBA2019) are Kilkenny Chamber’s flagship event, the biggest night of the year in the business calendar. The evening will see 56 shortlisted local enterprises compete for one of the prestigious awards.
Is there anything that people don't know about you?
I'm afraid of geese. It’s the one thing when I go on a farm and I see them - my heart sinks. They used to be used by guard dogs for the Romans and I can tell why!
What was your biggest mess up on camera?
I remember a live feature on Kenny Live years ago. At the end of the show, I had to knock on someone's door to tell them they had won a car. This man answered the door after one drink too many, wearing just a dressing gown with nothing on underneath. I've never done a link as quickly as all I could see was the belt slowly loosening and the dressing gown start to fall open. I needed to hand over the car keys before this poor man ended up stark naked on live tv!
Would you like to do a talk show yourself?
My favourite part of the job is interviewing people, I hate been interviewed…I've worked as a researcher on a few talk shows over the years and loved the work. So a talk show would be lovely!
Your favourite memory?
Holidays with my family growing up. We never went abroad, but we did holiday by the seaside in beautiful places like West Cork, Kerry and Waterford. And the sun always shone.
Been in the media - do you find you are constantly recognised in the public eye?
I grew up here so I'm known for being a local not from being on the telly.
Who would be your role model?
I enjoy watching Graham Norton - he makes it looks natural and is always entertaining.
If you’ve had a bad day at home, e.g. kids throwing a tantrum. How do you turn it on for the cameras.
I really enjoy the job, no matter where we go we are giving a great welcome. No matter how bad a day, work is always enjoyable.
What’s your take on social media?
I am very glad it wasn't around when I was young. I use twitter a lot for work. But I'm very wary of social media and I really hope the future is non-digital.
What is the future of TV?
A growing number of people aren't watching live TV and as the quality of broadband improves (very slowly) throughout the country that will increase so I do worry about the future of live TV.
What’s on your bucket list?
Retiring to a warm country when the children are reared and I've given up work.
Catch Helen in action at the ‘Kilkenny Business Awards’ which will take place on Saturday, 16th November in the Lyrath Estate Hotel. Over 500 members of Kilkenny’s business community will be attending, with 20 category winners, the overall ‘Business of the Year’ along with the “President’s Award” and “Lifetime Achievement” award announced on the night, at the Chamber’s black-tie awards ceremony. The nominated charity for this year’s Kilkenny Business Awards is Teac Tom. See kilkennychamber.ie for more.