From its humble beginnings as a small Facebook page, Rick O’Shea’s book club is now moving to RTÉ Radio One. It’s a dream come true for the broadcaster, writes Esther McCarthy.
His passion for books has already helped him drawn him a wide following on social media — now broadcaster Rick O’Shea is about to share that passion on our national airwaves.
The Book Show returns to RTÉ One from early December with O’Shea at the helm, and he’salready planning a forthcoming Christmas Day special. All career moves matter, but this one is extra special, he says.
“For most of my broadcasting life, I would have chewed my own arm off to do a book show,” he says as the news is revealed.
For the broadcaster and RTÉ, the marriage makes perfect sense. Since vowing to change his lifestyle by reading more and watching less TV, his decision has led him to unexpected places in hiscareer.
Best known as a music DJ on 2FM for many years, O’Shea’s passion for reading had faltered. In 2014, he promised himself he’d read 100 books that year — and let his listeners and social media followers in on his plans, so he would have to stick to it.
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So here’s the news I have been dying to share with you for the last while - @rteradio1 have asked me to become the new presenter of The RTE Book Show. I genuinely could not be more honoured and there isn’t a show anywhere in radio I’d rather be taking the helm of. We start in December – for now you can follow us both on Twitter and Instagram at @bookshowrte and subscribe to “RTE Book Show” wherever you get your podcasts. There will be much, *much* more news to follow over the next few weeks. 🤓
“I was going through one of those phases in my reading life where I realised there was tons of stuff I wanted to read, and every time I went into a bookstore, I’d start to get palpitations because there were so many new things out that I was never getting to.
“I ended up committing myself foolishly over the Christmas of the year before. It probably seemed like a great idea at the time. There may have been wine involved and I decided that I was going to read a hundred books the following year.”
To his surprise, his decision generated a lot of interest, both in the media and among his followers. Many others decided to do the same — and called on the broadcaster to set up a book club.
“I know it might seem weird for somebody who does what I do for a living, but I’m quite shy in reality. I thought I’d do it online. And I thought initially we would start this and no one would be interested.” The Rick O’Shea Book Club page on Facebook recently passed the 28,000 follower mark, making it Ireland’s largest, with members from over 100 countries.
Personally, he found that reading more had a hugely positive impact — it helps, he says, that his wife is also an avid reader. “I think it does affect you mentally, hugely. It connects you with a community of people online that you never maybe would have connected with before.
“And I think, professionally, I never started this with the intention of branching out into another series of jobs. But if I hadn’t started the book club, I wouldn’t have fallen into public interviewing, curating festivals, things that I now find myself doing as a matter of course. That was entirely accidental, a wonderful by-product.”
Growing up in working-class Crumlin in Dublin, O’Shea never considered a career in broadcasting until he stumbled into voluntary radio at college. His mother grew up in a tenement in the city, and was moved to corporation flats in nearby Drimnagh when they were the tenement was demolished.
When he was a toddler, his family managed to get on the property ladder. “We moved to Crumlin when I was one, they were lucky enough to get a mortgage off the council back in the days when social housing meant something.” There were always, he says, books knocking around the house.
“My grandparents used to take me and my brother on Saturdays and they’d come pick us up at my parents’ house. They would bring us into town and we’d end up going to Easons. My grandparents had a caravan in Wexford, so I was allowed stash up when we went away. I’d read The Famous Five books, all of the Secret Seven books, The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys.”
He also loved reading sci-fi, discovering the classics of Arthur C Clarke at the age of nine.
However, at the age of 16, he experienced his first seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. There was no history of it in the family, and initially they didn’t even have a sense of what it was.
“It was at Christmas and we were at home. My mother reliably tells me that I stood up, got a strange look on my face, fell over and fell into the Christmas tree.
“I got an email about four weeks ago from a father who had a teenage kid and had just had their first seizure. And they’re going through the same thing we were, which is: ‘What if this completely ruins my child’s life? What if they won’t be allowed to do any of the things that they want to do with their lives? What if this completely infringes on them being able to live their life fully?’ And that’s what we went through at the time.
“I’m lucky enough in that over the years, on and off, I’ve been able to find a cocktail of medications that make things work for me. I started a new drug in 2010 and I had my last seizure then. I haven’t had a seizure in nine years now — touch wood — which is fantastic, but it could happen tomorrow.”
It was on starting college that he came across what was to become another great love in his life — radio.
“I went to UCD to attempt to do an arts degree, which I failed miserably to do, which is still one of my great regrets. But I ended up in the student radio station there, having started doing hospital radio for fun in between school and college that summer. And I realised quite quickly, I enjoyed it.” He started a radio course and within a year he was offered his first paying job in Wicklow’s East Coast Radio. By the age of 20, he was broadcasting on Atlantic 252.
“I was a kid, and in those days it was a big deal. The profile was good and it got you noticed, which was great. I was there for a year and a half. And ever since then, I’ve been lucky enough that the jobs that I’ve gotten have allowed me to be pursued by other people as opposed to the other way round.”
O’Shea joined RTÉ in 2001 and quickly became one of 2FM’s most popular stars. After 16 years at the music station, two years ago he moved to the broadcaster’s online digital channel, RTÉ Gold, where he hosts the morning show. The change did not come as a surprise and he had a good run at the youth-orientated station, he says. believes.
“If you’re not looking ahead, doing what I do, then you’re deluding yourself,” he says.
“I don’t ever think that I was hard done by. I got a really good run out of 2FM. I think we managed to ride it out for a couple of years longer than I thought I would have. RTÉ is one of those places where there are a ton of places for people to do what they do. You don’t get thrown off the side of the boat simply because you’ve moved from one demographic into another demographic.”
He had also outgrown the type of music he was playing at 2FM, he adds: “I wasn’t passionate about the music I was still playing on 2FM when we finished up two years ago, whereas now I can go into work every day and go: ‘I’m starting the show with David Bowie this morning.’”
Rick O’Shea was photographed at the Marlin Hotel in Dublin 2.
I thought I’d pick some books from this year that maybe haven’t got enough love.
John Lanchester: The Wall.
Super post-apocalyptic lit-fic set in a UK now entirely surrounded by a coastal wall in the aftermath of a climate disaster that is only described as ‘The Change’. Young men and women are all conscripted toguard it in case the country isoverwhelmed by refugees, sorry, migrants, sorry ‘others’.
Nicole Flattery: Show Them A Good Time.
A debut Irish short story collection in which a young Irish woman dates a famous comedianin New York, two college students put on a play, a series of online dates happen in a bizarrerestaurant. Impressive stuff.
Cecelia Watson: Semicolon.
Just in case you think this might be a book about the origin, history and changes in usage over the centuries of the semicolon, you’d be bangon. It’s also about that time the semicolon caused alcohol to be banned in Boston for six years.
Ronán Hession: Leonard And Hungry Paul.
Two gentle, quiet 30-something men still living in theirfamily homes deal with the world through ghost-writing encyclopaedias, playing board games and gentle observation. Funny as allhell. in places it reminded me of A Confederacy Of Dunces.
Emma Dabiri: Don’t Touch My Hair.
A cultural of history of black hair written through the prism of the experience of Irish author Emma Dabiri. Brilliantly enlightening stuff.