Man brought the Sounds of Ireland to Greater New Haven
HAMDEN, Conn. (AP) — When Sean Canning started as host of the Sounds of Ireland, he had no radio experience, no desire to be famous and no idea it would be a legacy nearly 50 years long that spanned generations.
Canning, now 83, got on the airwaves in 1975 on Milford’s station WFIF, not as a professional radio host looking for a break in the media business, but as a volunteer to help get the word out for community news.
“I was in front of a microphone before I knew it,” Sean Canning said. “I was scared to death at the start, but they had no mercy for me down there.”
“The Sounds of Ireland has been a big part of the Irish community for years and he’s been the driving force for years,” Brendan Canning said of his father. “It’s a major commitment on his part and he does it for the love of the Irish community and to connect with people.”
The Sounds of Ireland aired for the last time on Quinnipiac University’s WQUN radio station Sunday as the station nears closing, but in the nearly 45 years the show has aired, it never missed a week.
The show has consisted of as much Irish music as Canning could play as well as community event announcements and call in requests for personal anniversaries, birthdays and deaths. Many people who listened to the show as children grew up with it as part of their lives and passed the tradition on to their own children.
“A lot of people’s Sunday mornings have been centered around his show,” said Brendan Canning, whose wife even grew up listening to her future father-in-law. Canning said one of her earliest memories of listening to it was learning to waltz with her father with the program on. People would plan to go to church that day for when the show ended and some even changed the Mass time so that people could listen, the younger Canning said.
It was the community’s weekend checkup on the community to stay informed about the goings-on. Sean Canning said if he didn’t know the show was worthwhile to people, he wouldn’t have kept going, but because the community showed continuous interest, he had to stay on air.
“I’m a stick-to-it type person,” he said.
Entire families lives have been chronicled by the Sounds of Ireland as Sean Canning has announced weddings, births and deaths all within the same family on the show over the years. His own grandson’s birth was announced on air when Brendan called in from the hospital to tell his dad and the entire community that Sean Canning was a grandfather.
There have been tough times on air also, such as when Canning has had to announce when community members pass. He recalled one Sunday morning when he was called about a deadly car accident in New Jersey in which a local father and son had died.
“It was heart wrenching to have to announce something like that,” Canning said. But Canning often got calls about listeners’ family members passing and it was always something he wrestled with putting on air.
Since the show began as a way to promote community events, Sean Canning never hesitated to have people on the show when they were having a benefit or fundraiser.
“The amount of money he’s helped people raise over the years is tremendous,” Brendan Canning said. “He really is so honest in terms of wanting to get the word out of the importance of attending an event. His whole life is dedicated to making sure the Irish community thrives in the greater New Haven. That’s why he does this day in and day out. He does this for the love of the community.”
“We wanted to be part of the community,” Sean Canning said. “We weren’t looking to do anything very special expect keeping the audiences informed about what was going on, even in the personal lives. We were totally for the community that was listening to us.”
The Sounds of Ireland joined WQUN in 2001 just as the Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute was coming to Quinnipiac University and alumni still marched in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“Sean made Irish culture accessible to people who are only a little Irish and to people who are not Irish,” Ray Andrewson, general manager of WQUN, said. “Sean’s 45 year run is a testament to his consistency, his commitment, the fact that he’s universally respected for putting on a good program and entertaining. He’s a very caring person.”
Andrewson said the beauty of the program was that it was local and connected to the community and hopes the Sounds of Ireland continues in some form.
Over the years, three generations of Cannings have hosted the show — Sean Canning, Brendan Canning and his son — and Brendan Canning said the show has been a great family experience for them and a service to the community.
“When I think of the Cannings and Sean, I think of family,” Andrewson said.
Sean Canning said he’s not sure what he will do with his Sunday mornings yet, but he’s grateful for how long he got to host the show.
“I think my dad is due some tribute for having done this all these years,” Brendan Canning said. “There are a lot of people who are going to miss it. It was part of their lives and Sunday mornings for almost 50 years.”
Information from: Connecticut Post, http://www.connpost.com