Conquering the Airwaves


Hello! This is Radio Halton. Jenny speaking. Are you happy and ready to go? I’ve got great things lined up for you today. But first, let’s hear some music.”

This cheery message greets patients in Halton General Hospital, Runcorn, England, as they tune in to seventeen-year-old Jenny Ireland, their disk jockey for several hours each week.

Jenny sends out messages of comfort and hope along radio waves to hospital patients. But many of those patients don’t realize that Jenny operates the complex radio equipment without arms.

At Jenny’s birth, when her father saw only hands at her shoulders, his thoughts were, “Oh, how we shall miss hugs from this lovely daughter.”

Now, he says, “I have never been more wrong. Jenny’s hugs are whole body hugs. She couldn’t have been a more loving child.”

And this love for others now motivates Jenny in all areas of life. “I’d like to be everyone’s friend,” she admits. “My greatest ambition is to have my own radio program—and broadcast to the public. A lot of lives can be touched that way.”

Touching lives is something she’s already doing. Nothing is too great an obstacle. She even completed the physically demanding requirements for a national fitness award, setting an amazing example to the rest of her school friends. The final hike in Snowdonia, Wales, was grueling—days of trekking over mountains in all kinds of weather, with only a compass and map to guide her. Jenny also has no ligaments in one knee, which causes problems. But sheer determination keeps her going.

Jenny’s sociable nature helps her to reach out to others to share her strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. She doesn’t mind who knows.

Jenny also knows how to make people feel special—even those embarrassed by her disability.

“Sometimes children will point at me and talk behind my back or make fun. It really doesn’t bother me one bit. I just laugh. My lack of arms is no problem to me. If I believe in myself, then I can accomplish as much as the next person.

“There was no medical explanation for my being born this way. No one is to blame. I’ve learned a lot about myself in seminary. I feel I have things to do; and my disability is not a trial, but somehow a help to others. It’s making me a much stronger, more patient person and keeps the family close together.”

Jenny has a younger brother, Jared, age fifteen, and two sisters—Maxine, thirteen, and Kirsty, nine.

“The only chore I get out of is washing dishes,” laughs Jenny, “because I get a little wet—more like soaked! But, like Jared, I love to cook, and I really don’t need any help.”

Jenny once watched a video of herself and understands how people feel when they see her. “My immediate reaction was, ‘That girl needs assistance; she looks so clumsy.’ But when I’m doing things, I don’t feel clumsy. I’m just getting on with it.

“Of course there are days when I feel down and sorry for myself,” Jenny admits, “but my parents have taught me that my best friend is my Heavenly Father, and he’s always there when I need him.

“I can remember at primary school when everyone could write much faster than I. The teacher would be dictating, and I never could keep up. I’d come home crying. Mum said, ‘Ask Heavenly Father to help you.’

“Well, he didn’t seem to be helping—at first. Then a few weeks later I noticed I could do it! And I’ve kept up ever since, writing faster than others at times.

“When I was even younger,” she recalls, “I couldn’t reach to put on socks. So I sat there trying for hours until I could.”

School has presented many challenges for Jenny. But Church programs and loving parents and leaders have helped develop her self-esteem so that nothing can threaten her progress.

“I can remember a school debate,” she smiles, “when we had to speak on a favorite subject. I chose the Church. When I mentioned ‘Church is fun,’ everyone gasped. During question time someone asked, ‘Do you really get up at six o’clock every morning for seminary?’ At the end, the teacher commented, ‘That was an excellent advertisement for your church.’

“On another occasion,” Jenny continues, “during the fitness award practice walks we had to carry a backpack, and I felt so weighed down that I nearly quit. Usually, before such a big trial, I ask Dad for a blessing. This time I realized I’d forgotten. I was just about to look for a phone to call Mum to come and get me when a line from my patriarchal blessing came into my head: ‘You can achieve anything you set your heart to do.’ And with help from my Heavenly Father, I did it.”

Accepting President Spencer W. Kimball’s challenge to “do it” has taken Jenny wherever she want to go. She hikes, swims, skates, dances, camps, and paints. She also plans to graduate from seminary, learn to drive, save money for a trip to the United States, and be married in the temple. But foremost is her goal of conquering the waves—radio waves.

Jenny’s voluntary work as a hospital radio disk jockey has developed in her a desire to share music and words with anyone willing to listen. She loves all types of music from classical to modern and has a calm, humorous approach to the microphone.

“I think giving talks at church from an early age has helped me feel comfortable speaking into microphones,” she smiles.

The chairman of Radio Halton, Derek Owens, agrees. “She originally joined us as an assistant. Then one day the other disk jockey was absent, so Jenny took over his time without hesitation and put on a great show. Now she has her own show each week.”

With such praise from the boss, it’s no wonder Jenny feels an obligation to set the best possible example of being a Latter-day Saint.

Sometimes temptation to let down her standards can be almost overwhelming, especially when a cherished goal comes in sight. Like the time Jenny was invited to meet with well-known disk jockeys from a major radio station—on a Sunday.

She wanted so much to be there, supporting her hospital team and meeting influential people, possibly improving her career opportunities. Workmates kept pressuring her to go. But she refused, at the same time explaining her feelings for the Sabbath.

“I felt awful letting them down,” she says, “but I’d have felt even more awful letting myself and Heavenly Father down—and my workmates, too, because eventually they would have seen me as a bad example.”

And Jenny knows bad examples can break down channels of communication. She’s more interested in building them, which is obvious as she broadcasts another cheery message.

“Time to close for today. But before we go, I’d like to interview the lady who’s been interviewing me for the past two hours. She, too, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes known as the Mormon Church. Let’s ask her a few questions about the Church.”

[photos] Photography by Anne C. Bradshaw

[photos] Jenny and her father, who is also her bishop, view the world’s largest fixed arch suspension bridge, which crosses a major river near her home. Jenny, who would like to make radio broadcasting her career, is seen, below, right, with her family: father and mother, Arthur and Irene; brother, Jared; and sisters, Maxine and Kirsty.