athena media weblog

Its all Chinese to me

September 26th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

I often encourage my niece with the idea of doing something that scares you everyday - or at least every week. But for me one of the most challenging missions recently has been to present to a group of leading Chinese media people - addressing their questions about digital and broadcast media in the UK and Europe but without a word of Chinese in my head. I learnt how to say hello 你好 and goodbye 再见 but the whole experience reminded me just how little I know about China and how much I need to learn. Which is a good thing to wake up to. I came away from the session feeling slightly bewildered as normally my key communications advice is to know your audience and figure out how to connect with them but in this case it was extremely hard by the end of the session to know what I had communicated or how I had connected. Every word had to be translated and I also realised how much you lose control when your language and conversation has to go through a translation loop. It reminded me how difficult it is to connect without language and the need for those of us on this side of the world to reach out and learn the language of 2 billion people. So full of enthusiasm I did enroll in the local night course in breakthrough Chinese convinced that at least by my next session with the Chinese (and thankfully there will be a second one!) I would know more. I rolled up with my notebook in hand only to be told the numbers were too low to go ahead. Dejected I left. So anyone out there who want to help me learn a little Mandarin Chinese please let me know! In France my friend says her daughters learn it in school in the same way we learn German - not the first language they learn - but the second or third. How many Irish schools are teaching Chinese? How many business courses include Chinese in their modules?

For my part it has started a new learning curve trying to get beyond the assumptions and understand the economy, culture and people, in all their diversity, behind so much of what influences my everyday life and world. ‘Made in China’ may be the most common phrase a child in Ireland learns if they are picking up things around the house - but how much better if we were teaching just a little of that language to get behind that product stamp ?

Autumn production highlights

August 19th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

We’re back into the swing of production on three major new productions, one television and two radio. Our TV documentary Extreme presented by Kipper Maguire is a fast paced story of the people behind extreme sports like base jumper and skydiver Conor Heelan, surfer Easkey Britton, long distance swimmer Fergal Somerville and thundercat speedboat racer Aileen Mann, you can see a short preview of the action at our vimeo. Our Extreme production team is being led by Barry MacNeill and Aoife Nathan with additional camera work by Raja Nundlall, John Fay and Eleanor Bowman. Its for Setanta Sports Ireland with funding support by the BAI and the TV licence fee and its scheduled for screen next Spring.

Kipper Maguire at Saint Mary's track filming Extreme

Our radio series Vocal Chords presented by Sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird of The Gloaming is for RTÉ Lyric fm and explores the global experience of voice and song. Our audio editor Amy Millar is leading on this project and the production team includes composer Michael Gallen and our intrepid associate producer Rob Hope who has now re-located to Berlin. The series will be recording across the winter and spring and there’s some big name surprises on the guest list! Its also supported by the BAI funding scheme.

Our second radio series which is entering production is a new science series Bright Sparks presented by TCD physicist Dr Shane Bergin and its exploring cutting edge innovation and discovery in Irish research centres. Its for RTÉ Radio 1 for air next Autumn - October 2015 and its been driven in our staff by Cormac McAdam. Again its funding supported by the BAI and like most Irish production companies today we’re highly dependant on the funding which draws on 7% of the TV licence fee and funds public media broadcast content in Ireland. We remain one of the few companies producing award-winning content under the scheme for both radio and TV and for both public broadcasters and commercial outlets. This year alone our BAI funded content won three awards at the New York Radio Festival and our TV documentary strand on paralympians Beyond Limits and Beyond Limits The Next Generation is still being screened on Setanta Ireland and features many of the athletes winning internationally and aiming to qualify for Rio 2016.

Its your right logo

Besides our production news our transmedia project for the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) is wrapping up this Autumn with the launch of the free iPad app around the content and which is aimed at schools and educational use. We’re extremely proud to have worked on this project around the vital conversation of children’s rights and we love using our content skills in our-reach projects like this or our recent work for UCD through the James Joyce The Dead iPad app and the site For us content is all about reaching out and connecting with people, shaping conversations and expanding knowledge, so making digital projects and mobile applications is a wonderful way of ensuring our stories reach further and have more impact. If you are interested to know more about the OCO project check out We’re marking 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this November and mainstream content like this gives both primary and secondary schools tools for children to play with and it empowers their sense of their own citizenship.

A Night at the New York Festivals Radio Awards 2014

June 24th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

By Anita Walsh

NY Festival Awards

The Empire State building shone brightly over the 2014 New York Festival awards honouring the World’s Best Radio Programmes. Strong and encouraging themes emerged as radio professionals from all around the world gathered to celebrate their craft. Gold and Silver recipients from Sweden, Canada, Australia, USA, India and, of course, Ireland spoke about not just their winning productions, but a love for radio, the spoken word and soundscapes that couldn’t fail to inspire. Ben Manilla, a New York Festival winner every year since 1987, summed up the audio passion nicely observing that “when you see something it goes to your brain, but when you hear it, it goes to your heart.”

Many awards on the night were delivered to hard hitting documentaries with topics including domestic violence, rape, war, terrorism and more. Several award recipients, humble in acceptance, noted that their counterparts in Syria, Egypt and beyond are jailed and worse for doing a job that many take for granted. The call to celebrate free speech and the quality of journalism on display was a joy to see, along with the heartwarming speeches illustrating that radio can, and has, made a difference in people’s lives, at home and abroad.

A final common ground among winners on the night was a call to action to keep radio strong and to keep independent radio flowing. Sentiments echoed by independent production company, Athena Media, it is wonderful to see such powerful radio produced worldwide, and encouraging to see a passion to continue.

Congratulations to all at Athena Media on winning four awards on the night: Gold for Herosongs, the history meets song series in the best educational programming category; Gold for Citizens: Lockout 1913-2013, the landmark history series in best history programming; Silver for science series Science is Everywhere in best science and technology programming, and Finalist award for James Joyce: The Dead, an illustrated reading by Barry McGovern, in the best narration craft category.. Well done to Helen, Lisa, Amy and the Athena Media team, Herosongs presenter Therese McIntyre, Science is Everywhere presenter Dr Lara Dungan, and music composers Michael Gallen and Rob Hope for all of the excellent work on these projects.

It has been a good week (or two) for Athena Media

May 23rd, 2014 by Helen Shaw

We’ve settled into our new home in The Digital Hub at Townhouse Twenty2 Thomas St despite the jack hammers working outside. We love this old library building with its high ceilings and big windows and it’s blend of history and digital futures. The only downside is the on-going roadworks which dominate Thomas St at present. But beyond that temporary challenge we’re definitely celebrating in Athena Media. This month marks ten years since we set up as a start-up in The Digital Depot, the Hub’s incubation zone, and we’re marking our tenth birthday with not just a return to one of the most beautiful of the old buildings under the restoration keep of the project but we’ve expanded into the UK with our new office and presence in MediaCityUK Manchester. We’ve come full circle, from an owner-director start-up to a flourishing and growing company employing talented people in the heart of two cities. But buildings and jobs are not just what we’re celebrating in May. We’ve just heard a few more magic numbers to add to that perfect ten. Just days ago we got the news that four of our radio programmes are finalists in the international radio awards at The New York Radio Festival.

We’re no stranger to the New York Radio Awards. In 2012 we won Gold for our history series Death of an Empire, on the collapse of the Soviet Union with presenter Seamus Martin and just last year we were finalists with our series Grassroots on positive community profiles. Because of our wins I’ve been invited to be part of the international jury for the last two years (but of course we’re barred from voting on our own programmes!). But it was still a complete surprise to get four finalists in this year’s competition. The four are Herosongs (RTÉ Radio1), Citizens: Lockout 1913 (RTÉ Radio1), and Science is Everywhere (Newstalk) all of which were funded by the The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and the Barry McGovern narration of Joyce’s “The Dead” was funded by UCD and broadcast by RTÉ lyric fm. We’ve made history as an independent company in that we’re certainly the first Irish independent to have four different programmes voted as finalists and we may even be a rarity globally as the four programmes are four three different broadcasters and represent two different forms of funding. Its been quite a coup so far and the Gold, Silver and Bronze decisions will come on June 23rd. Win or not on that day we’re over the moon to box above our (very small) weight in the international arena. We think it reflects well not just on our creative team, and in particular our audio editor Amy Millar who was the audio designer behind all these projects, but on all indie radio and shows the potential, if supported, for creative talent from Ireland to shine and lead. In these categories we’re up against the best and most funded radio programming in the world from BBC Radio 4, ABC in Australia, CBC in Canada and NPR in the United States. We’re particularly appreciative to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland fund Sound & Vision which has supported the making of three of these projects. Without this fund we’d be doing very little broadcasting. It is the beating heart of independent production and creativity in Ireland.

On the heels of the news of four finalist programmes in the NY Radio Awards came the news that we had got three projects; two radio and 1 television, approved for funding support by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in its Sound & Vision Round 20. Much like the New York Radio round this was a 100% success rate and gives us a diverse range of projects from sport (EXTREME for Setanta Sports Ireland) to arts/music (Vocal Chords for RTE Lyric fm) and science (Bright Sparks for RTE Radio 1). It was to say the least a major relief and joy for us as tons of hard work went into this round given we had suffered total rejection (four projects…!) in the last funding round in December. Robert Hope who is now based between Berlin and Dublin spear-headed our BAI submissions and he has to take a very big bow for the quality of the submissions that went through this time around. The competition for funding in our sector is extremely tough and each round gets tighter and tighter so while we’ve got 3 submissions funded in this round we actually haven’t had a new funded submission in nearly a year and a half as our previous batch of projects were all approved in 2012. So in our business we know make hay while the sun shines as this burst of heat of award nominations and funding comes after a very dry season! In reality we have not had a new broadcast project since December and all our work so far in 2014 has been outside broadcasting – predominately for the wonderful It’s Your Right children’s project for the Children’s Ombudsman which we won by public tender in late February.

Broadcasting and independent production is a highly precarious business. There’s no guarantees in our gig and we are always pitching and always bidding. Part of our decision-making behind the move to MediaCityUK is not just to expand our UK broadcasting business and work but equally to diversify. We know how fragile it is to depend on funding rounds as a business. It’s not secure and not a good basis for employing people and giving them careers and futures. Our mix has to be broadcasting and digital publishing – like our new business in audiobooks and our first book The Summit read by author Pat Falvey available now on Audible,Amazon and iTunes.

We love broadcasting ; we love documentaries but like any business keen to survive we have to adapt and find new sources of funding for our stories and ideas. We know what we do matters to us. We hope it matters to those who listen and watch and our aim is to make transformational stories, to tell stories that make a difference, about people shaping the world we live in and the ideas and passions that drive them.

Moving to Manchester & MediaCityUK

April 16th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Media City UK

It has been a busy first quarter for Athena Media in that by January we took the decision to move North or more precisely to the North of England and divide our operation between Dublin and Manchester. By mid March we joined the prestigious MediaCityUK setup and opened shop in The Greenhouse which is just off the main piazza in Salford Quays and around the corner from the BBC where the Daleks beckon! We have established as a UK company and joined the UK independent sector and we’re busy opening doors, networking and connecting. Some of our neighbours in The Greenhouse include Steve Coogan’s company Baby Cow.

The Greenhouse

MediaCityUK is rapidly expanding and is currently home to BBC Five Live, BBC Sport, BBC’s Children’s output CBBC and BBC Breakfast. ITV has shifted its base there too and across one of the bridges you find ITV’s flagship soap Coronation Street in its brand new set. We’ve already found lots of common ground with companies and businesses in the cluster and delighted too to have connected with some Irish business leaders there like Elaine Mullan at Bright Future, an innovative mobile software company.

Media City

Click here to see what the Manchester Evening News has to say about all the new arrivals to The Greenhouse in MediaCityUK.

It’s all a new beginning for us and we’re currently getting very used to the Aer Lingus and Ryanair schedules to Manchester but it’s an exciting new phase for our ten year old company. Wish us luck!

The science of now is everywhere

February 24th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Dr Lara Dungan

We’ve a new radio series starting shortly on Newstalk called Science is Everywhere which explores the everyday stories of our daily life and the science behind them. Its presented by Dr Lara Dungan a young scientist with a PhD from Trinity College in immunology who is now studying medicine at UCD. The series has had a long gestation. I think the idea started a couple of summers ago when my adorable niece Dara Shaw was in on work experience during her transition year. (She’s now in the midst of her Leaving Cert year so that says just how long this gestation period has been!) Dara loves science and hopes to take science at UCD in the future but when she was in with us on her work experience I asked her to come up with some ideas about science programming particularly aimed at getting people who don’t think they know much about science (and assume it’s boring!) but who may be surprised by the science stories about the things we take for granted in our everyday life. Science is Everywhere was born from that conversation and Dara worked on an outline which was initially for a children’s and young people series but later became the Newstalk/BAI series, which starts on air from March 15th. Dara’s ideas were aided and developed over coffee in the Science Gallery with her cousin John Howard who was then finishing his Masters degree in science at Trinity College Dublin. (John is now living in Bilbao living each day!) While the 8 part series which we finally created is a lot different to those humble notes in the Science Gallery it’s interesting how some of the themes and the core idea remained. What we set out to create was a series to surprise people and intrigue people by revealing the scientific principles behind everyday things like the water which flows from their tap or the honey they tip into their breakfast bowl. The topics range from climate change and weather chaos to the concept of the plastic brain which features a wonderful interview with the ever inspiring Mark Pollock, who features in the current Science Gallery exhibition ‘Fail Better’.

You can listen to a promo for the series on our audioboo channel and we shortly put up some of the specials in the Science is Everywhere series which we put out at Christmas including the full feature length documentary on the science of sound and music.
The series features some of the dynamic young scientists who are shaping research and innovation in Ireland; people like physicist Shane Bergin and stem cell engineer Danny Kelly from TCD, as well as UCD geneticists Emmeline Hill and Emma Teeling (my second cousin!) who’s work is leading globally. Probably, for me, the most fascinating material relates to the brain and in particular this idea that the brain is plastic and can be re-engineered throughout our lives. That’s a liberating thought; that we’re not fixed or settled but can continually reform, re-shape and adapt. Richard Roche, of the Brain Council, put it brilliantly and provocatively when he said we’ve learnt more about the brain in the last twenty years than in the thousands before it. The brain, as the undiscovered frontier of human endeavour and exploration, intrigues and motivates me.

Hope you enjoy the series and our thanks as always to the crew behind it including Lisa Essuman who recorded most of the series on location, Amy Millar our talented audio editor who recorded our studio interviews and did a beautiful mix on the programmes and of course Kate Ní Chléirigh who managed the series administration, recorded interviews and assisted with all aspects of final productions. Robert Hope, as always, showed he is the master of vox pops and produced some great pieces from the streets while the series features the music of both Robert and Michael Gallen, our in house composers whose music compositions lift all our productions.

Working with the bionic man

January 17th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Mark Pollock

Our latest TV documentary Beyond Limits - the Next Generation is on screen from Jan 23rd, 10pm with Setanta Sports. Its a follow up to a one hour documentary we did in late August 2012 just before the start of the Paralympic Games in London. Then we got to meet a host of hopeful athletes Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Mark Rohan, Catherine Walsh, Darragh Mc Donald, Helen Kearney and Padraic Moran. In London Paralympics Ireland went beyond their own dreams and people like Michael, Jason and Mark came home with double gold and Darragh brought home a swimming gold medal. Both Catherine and Helen won medals too but more importantly those games were a watershed in disability sports in Ireland and brought everyone’s attention to the startling achievements of our paralympians.

We loved making that documentary as these are truly extraordinary people who inspire us all to do more, dream bigger and never give up. But more importantly we got to work with one of our favourite people - blind and now paralysed athlete and explorer Mark Pollock. Mark has been a friend since 2008 when I got to meet him shortly after his race to the South Pole. We worked together on developing projects and we were just about to start making a new radio series when he had his tragic fall in 2010 which broke his back. Since then we’ve supported Mark in any way we can - even if its just running the Run in the Dark and raising funds every year (last November was year three!). But getting to work with him, as had been the original plan, was the endgame. The success of Beyond Limits and London 2012 made us want to stick with the stories of our outstanding athletes. I wanted to find out what happens next but also to see what impact such results had. Would it inspire someone watching it to take up sport and perhaps see themselves as a future medallist?

It was that thinking which led us to begin developing and pitching our second documentary Beyond Limits - the Next Generation. In it we follow the fortunes of many of those London 2012 winners, people like Jason, Michael, Darragh, Catherine and Helen but we also meet many of the new-comers coming up with an eye and ambition on Rio 2016. We meet a young woman who wasn’t even watching the games but got spotted at a Paralympics Ireland talent day and is now being fast tracked for Rio. Find out more in the documentary and see a trailer here. But once again its been a delight to work with Mark and Mark’s own story is transformational. He has gone from the horrors and darkness of the time post his accident to now walking daily in a robotic ’suit’ and is spending some time now in the US at the cutting edge of technological and scientific research on spinal injuries. Mark has been clear from the beginning that he wants to walk again but his determination to walk again has been matching by endurance training, commitment and a positive belief in the power of never being defined by limitations. Always question those lines and limits. And in the end that’s the message of Beyond Limits - the Next Generation. No one can limit you only yourself.

Athena Media’s production Beyond Limits - The Next Generation will be free to air on Setanta Ireland on Thursday 23rd of January at 10 pm. There are two repeats scheduled for Sunday 26th at 10 pm and Wednesday 29th at 8 pm.

An Epiphany in Dublin

January 6th, 2014 by Helen Shaw

Just four years ago we launched Joyce’s Dublin for our client UCD and created a microsite and podcast series around Joyce’s celebrated short story The Dead. Now in January 2014 one hundred years after the publication of Dubliners we’re delighted to have got the chance to work again with UCD in completing that project with a wonderful audio reading of the story by Barry McGovern. The reading went out in full on RTE lyric fm on January 5th but the reading, and our previous content from the Joyces Dublin website, has formed the basis for a new digital application James Joyce: The Dead which is now a free iPad application.

What is wonderful about the project is the way it allows us to explore the potential for digital to augment literary texts like Dubliners. The iPad app brings together photographs of the time from collections in the National Library, the text of the story itself, the audio podcast series we produced and now a new reading by Barry McGovern which was sound illustrated by our audio editor Amy Millar and with original music by composer Michael Gallen. The iPad application is designed by Vermillion and the commission comes via Professor Gerardine Meaney of UCD Humanities Institute who has been the digital champion on these digital humanities projects.

We’d love to see our institutions seizing the opportunity to re-imagine our cultural and literary heritage in a digital multimedia sphere and projects like James Joyce: The Dead show what can be achieved. The fact its a free app makes it all the more special and UCD deserves praise and support for taking the initiative and putting resources into free educational digital humanities. Some 90 secondary schools are now using iPads to replace their books so we know schools can access and use this beautiful tool and the original website itself remains both popular and valuable.

Science, love, music and Joyce. An Athena Media Christmas and New Year!

December 16th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Julie Feeney, Camille O'Sullivan, Jack Lukeman, Aofie Scott, Michael Gallen

We’ve been hectic in the run up to Christmas 2013 and New Year 2014 with a range of radio and TV programmes hitting the broadcast schedules over the holidays.
Our Christmas Eve special with singer Jack Lukeman and guests goes out 8-9pm on RTÉ Radio 1 and recording it was some of the best fun we’ve had recently - with two babies in the control room. Singers Julie Feeney and Camille O Sullivan, who guest feature on the show, have both recently had baby girls so we had the joy of seeing them while we rehearsed duets for the show itself. Its a lovely, heart-warming mix of music and stories which we think will add a touch of magic to the night regardless of how you feel about Christmas. You can listen to the promo here.

On quite a separate track we’ve a science documentary series with presenter Dr Lara Dungan hitting Newstalk over the New Year. This is a BAI supported series called Science is Everywhere and the first three episode in this series go out on New Year’s Eve and then New Year’s Day at 6pm. Episode 1 is a full length documentary feature on the science of sound and music, with two half hours on New Year’s Day, the science of love and then the science of water. Great voices and stories from this series including the amazing fact that of all the water we purify for human consumption in Dublin City only 1% is actually consumed by humans - the rest we simply wash or flush away. Listen to the promo here.

Barry McGovern reading

So besides music and science our next holiday production is Joycean with a touch perhaps of both music and love. Its a reading of The Dead, James Joyce’s short story, which goes out on Jan 5th on RTE Lyric fm in full, read by actor Barry McGovern. This is a UCD Humanities Institute production which forms part of Joyce’s Dublin - the multimedia online project we made some years ago. UCD is creating an iPad application around the story but we’re particularly delighted that RTE Lyric fm has agreed to broadcast the story in full on the 5th - reflecting the anniversary of the story itself. Listen to the promo here.

Besides our three holiday radio productions for RTE Radio 1, Newstalk and RTE lyric fm we’re also delighted to see Setanta Sports Ireland is repeating our recent six part TV series Get Off the Couch! in full from Jan 7th with two episodes every night across the 7th, 8 and 9th running from 8pm every night. Its a great way to start the New Year with the inspiring stories of our participants who just twelve months ago took up the challenge to change their lives and get active, fit and positive.

Hope you get a chance to see some of our hard work on air and of course many of these shows will also be available online and we’ll keep you updated here on future transmission dates. Our next big production is the transmission of the TV documentary Beyond Limits: The Next Generation our follow up with presenter Mark Pollock to the amazing outcomes of the Paralympic Games, London 2012. That documentary is now with the broadcaster, Setanta Sports ireland, and we expect it to air in the New Year with a lot of airtime across 2014.

What’s next? who knows? But you’ll be the first to hear!

Have a wonderful Christmas full of peace, joy and friendship. We hope to connect with you again in 2014 and thanks for all your feedback.
Nollaig Shona…

Beyond Limits & The Road to Rio

November 18th, 2013 by Helen Shaw

Mark Pollock will present the documentary

One of the highlights of our TV and video work last year was Beyond Limits with Mark Pollock, a preview of the Irish athletes participating in the Paralympic Games at London 2012. We met some fantastic characters like Darragh McDonald, Mark Rohan, Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth who came home with gold medals.

In the months following the London games we were determined to follow not just the stories of the outstanding athletes who went to London but to track the emerging new generation of new Paralympic athletes emerging post the games and inspired by the medal winners of London. Since then we’ve been filming with a whole new bunch of potential stars including tandem cyclist Peter Ryan, discus thrower Niamh McCarthy, swimmer Ailbhe Kelly, wheelchair tennis player Garreth Greene and a young veteran of London, long jumper and sprinter Heather Jameson. Once again the wonderful Mark Pollock is our presenter.

Beyond Limits The Next Generation - Trailer from Athena Media on Vimeo.

“People coming through see me on TV, so they look at myself as someone who has been there and done it and somebody who has the experience that they want to learn from” - Jason Smyth

In this new documentary, Beyond Limits, the Next Generation you will get to meet not just the new generation but you’ll see the medal winners from London mentoring and guiding those inspired and motivated by London and the Irish achievement.

“I feel that I definitely have something to give back to people who are starting off, whether that would be in athletics or cycling or just paralympics sport in general” - Catherine Walsh

Beyond Limits, the Next Generation is currently in post-production and will air on Setanta Ireland. Expect a transmission date shortly. Made with the support of the BAI and the help of Paralympics Ireland.