Listeners throughout the country tune in to hear Marianne MacDonald every Sunday at noon as she hosts “Come West Along the Road” on WTMR 800 AM. The show features traditional Irish music and interviews, along with local concert and event news.
She’s been hosting the show for many years, and for her, clearly, it’s a labor of love. “It’s a highlight of my week,” she says, “and I really look forward to hearing from my listeners.”
It would have to be a labor of love. The show takes a lot of preparation, and costs thousands of dollars to produce.
You can help out. An on-air two-hour pledge drive will take place this Sunday, December 2. Listeners can phone in their pledges and donations of any size at 856-962-8000.
We recently chatted with Marianne. Listen in. And here is the transcript:
Jeff: How long have you been doing the radio show?
Marianne: It would be … I’ll be starting my 16th year in June of 2019, so 15 full years.
Jeff: So you’ve been doing it since Tommy Moffit left?
Marianne: Tommy actually had me in training, I didn’t realize that. He would have me in to sit in with him and maybe call out some ads and do some announcements and then as he was getting close to retiring from the show he called me and asked me would I be interested in taking the show over. Here I am 15 years later.
Jeff: Why do you think Irish radio has such appeal?
Marianne: Well, I think that for certain people they want to connect with their roots through the music. I think that’s a large appeal with my show. I also think that there are people who like to connect with the Irish community through the shows. We do announcements of fundraisers, sometimes we read out little news bits. Today I told people about a documentary that they might not have been aware with. Unless they’re really tuned in either through some other form of media, they may not know about these things.
Jeff: How much work is involved in putting these shows together, you and Vince?
Marianne: Well, I can’t speak for Vince Gallagher, so I can only speak for myself. I spend a good bit of time putting my show together. I take at least two hours on a Saturday morning, sometimes three, depending on what I’m planning to do for the week. But during the week I would be collecting CDs or researching what I wanna do, possibly downloading some music. Then it depends if I’m going to do a theme. I do do theme shows fairly frequently. As an example, today was a theme show, the great bouzouki player Alec Finn died, so I wanted to do a tribute to him. (Note: This interview was recorded before last week’s show.) That included pulling together music and also pulling together some interviews and quotes with different people about Alec. It took me about three hours to put together this week’s show.
Jeff: Well, local Irish Radio is not the tonight show.
Jeff: You’re not making money hand over fist.
Marianne: We’re not making any money.
Jeff: So how much money does it actually take to put your show on the air?
Marianne: Well, if you look at it over the course of the years, I was telling a listener today, somebody who’s texting me during the show, it’s over $10,000 per show.
Jeff Meade: Wow.
Jeff: I’m amazed by that. So how do you raise that money?
Marianne: Well, primarily for my own show through listener support. We do the pledge drives twice a year. We’ve also done some fundraisers, different pubs or organizations have sponsored some fundraisers. I also this year started as sponsorship program, where people can sponsor part of the show or an entire show and I had a really nice response to that. I had a family who wanted to do a memorial to their sister who had passed recently, so they bought a full hour of the show.
Jeff: Why do you do it? What does doing Irish radio do for you?
Marianne: It gives me actually a great sense of satisfaction. I love the music, I think primarily that’s why I got into it, because I love the music. But I also love the connection with the audience, and I have a real strong connection with my audience. I do every week, I go on Facebook and I tell people, “I’m ready to go on the air, please tell me where you’re listening from.” People can message me and tell me exactly where they’re listening from and they check back and forth with each other during the show on Facebook. They also give me comments about the music, which is great to hear that they’re enjoying a certain artist or a certain song or tunes that I’m playing.
Jeff: How can people help?
Marianne: Well, they can certainly help with the pledge drive, that’s coming up on December 2nd and I got Michael Bradley who will be in with us for the two hours and we’ll be asking for pledges, donations, any size is always a help. They’ll be able to call in their pledge while people answering the phones will be calling out names. We don’t call out the amounts unless people do an extraordinary generous donation that they want somebody to match, but we always try to thank our people who pledge on the air and then I always try to make sure that they get a “thank you” card and a “thank you” gift if appropriate.
Jeff: This is really a labor of love. Has to be a labor of love.
Marianne: It is definitely a labor of love.
Jeff: You would have to love it.
Marianne: Yes. I do love it. A highlight of my week is being able to come and do the show every Sunday. I really look forward, as I said, to hearing from my listeners. One thing that I think I’ve done that really makes me proud is I’ve been able to expose some music to listeners that they may not have heard in, let’s say say broad mainstream Irish music. New and upcoming artists are people who have not recorded widely or whose CDs are not easily available in the United States. I know for myself I’ve made friends with many of these artists and when I go Ireland with my own tours, these artists will come out and they’ll play for my groups, which is really a really nice thing.
Jeff: Well, thanks for taking the time to chat.
Marianne: You’re very welcome, Jeff.
Editor’s note: All Irish Philly podcasts are now available on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and Spotify.