Grand Jury Confidential: Mary O’Connell

NYF’s International Radio Program Awards for The World’s Best Radio Programs honors radio programming and promotions in all lengths and formats from radio stations, networks and independent producers from around the globe. NYF’s Grand Jury is recruited from all facets of the radio industry to select the World’s Best Radio Programs℠, their dedication and expertise provide each entry with the utmost of attention.

Mary O'Connell Accepting the Gold Trophy at 2016's Radio Gala

Each week, New York Festivals Grand Jury Confidential profiles New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards award-winning Grand Jury members and offers insights into the brilliant careers of prominent radio executives from around the globe.

This week, NYF spends a few minutes with 2016 Grand Jury member, Mary O’Connell,  Toronto-based doc producer/editor for  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “Ideas.”   With 25+ years of doc making experience at the CBC, Ms. O’Connell has tackled such subjects as diverse as “Phallus in Wonderland: A Cultural History of the Penis,” to “Rethinking Depression: A Journey Through the Corporatization of Mental Illness.” Her award-winning “High Culture” took home the Gold this year, and  “The Secret Lives Children” earned her a New York Festivals Radio Awards Bronze Trophy in 2015.

In the interview below, Ms. O’Connell shares what she learned from her first job, her evolution in the radio industry, her defining moment in her career and more.

New York Festivals: What’s the most important thing you learned from your first job?

Mary O’Connell: I was an overnight newscaster in small town radio and once a week I had to read the local obituaries, following the news.  And if I didn’t get it right  because I’d mispronounced a name, (unfortunately it was sometimes the deceased)  I would get an earful. People care about how they are represented and the sensitivity one brings to that.

New York Festivals: What qualities are the most important to have?

Mary O’Connell: Before I start most interviews, I share personal stories, from the mundane, “I can’t believe I had to park seven blocks away”, to “my daughter is home sick today – it’s tough being a parent”. I always find people are eager to connect with the authentic so a willingness to engage and connect is part of emotional risk-taking.

Mary O'Connell and award winners from the CBC

New York Festivals: Tell us a bit about your evolution in the radio industry?

Mary O’Connell: As I mentioned I started out reading overnight news and obits on-air. I wasn’t a big fan of news. I then moved on to being a police reporter but I didn’t like having to curry favour – whether it was smiling a lot or buying a cop a cup of coffee – to get the murder and mayhem report from the night before. I was a political correspondent,  but noticed how one started to suffer from gold-fish bowl syndrome.  After all, you were reporting on the same politicians every day and critical thinking seemed difficult to retain.  Then one day, flipping through the dial, I heard a radio documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I didn’t know such a genre existed. I was gobsmacked and thought, “this is what I want to do”.   And I’ve been making documentaries now for 25 years.

New York Festivals: What was a defining moment in your career?

Mary O’Connell:  That’s a really hard question. Maybe it was my toughest interview:  a psychopathic serial killer who was (and still is) locked up in a high security mental institution. He was weaving, dodging and skirting my questions and comments. He was masterful and it forced me to listen deeply and intently on a level I never had before.

Visit 2016′s award winning entries and experience New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programs:

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