A lonesome cowboy for RTÉ

The new editor of Radio 1, Ana Leddy, is an unknown quantity in RTÉ, but has been raising a storm in Derry for the past few years

Word from inside RTÉ is that the station has a new strategy for competing in the Eurovision: in-house bands. Not to be outdone by an ad-hoc group of presenters who put a rock band together for a "one night only" gig at the Radio 1 Christmas party, management have looked outside, it appears, to bring in more musical talent at a senior level. Step forward Ana Leddy, new editor of Radio 1, and singer and guitarist in country music band Cosmic Banditos.

Leddy may not be wearing the leathers and stetson into Montrose when she starts work in February ("cool Kentucky", as one friend described her band's style), but she's nonetheless likely to face something of a culture shock.

Montrose is a notoriously bureaucratic behemoth, traditionally difficult to get into and almost as difficult to leave. At prime time, the schedules are conservative and almost rigid: changes billed as "radical" in the press are more often simply schedule swaps – Ryan Tubridy moves from doing preppy talk radio lite on 2fm to doing the same thing on Radio 1, while Marian Finucane moves from weekdays to weekend.

Radio Foyle, on the other hand, is the local BBC station in Derry, broadcasting to a 30-40 mile radius (though some of its programmes are broadcast more widely on Radio Ulster).

It was set up largely in response to the Troubles in 1975, and prides itself on being a community station with an open-door policy. As presenter Gerry Anderson tells it, the station was broadcasting to two polarised communities, and had it operated a strict security policy and attempted to distance itself from the street, it would have been targeted. So the station went the other way: "In such a small community, you can't put the gates up. Anybody could have walked in here at any time with a gun and took it over – but nobody ever did."

Though its brief is local, Anderson says, the pressures of operating at the heart of Northern Ireland during the Troubles meant that the staff had to be rigorously professional and on top of their game.

"When you've people being shot dead on your front doorstep, there's no complacency, you can't get lazy about it."

Ana Leddy walked into this in 1998, from a BBC Radio 4 job in Manchester and with almost 20 years experience of radio producing and presenting. "She walked into the teeth of a gale," says Anderson. But she appears to have thrived, and the station won six Sony Awards under her management.

Awards don't cut much ice in the Montrose canteen. The Sony Awards – like the PPI Awards in Ireland – are judged on the basis of compilation tapes made by the radio stations. Winning an award might be more a reflection of the effort spent on the compilation then of the consistent quality of a programme. But they don't hurt, and among the awards gleaned was one for best breakfast news and talk show, for which they beat Radio 4's renowned Today programme, and two "station of the year" awards for Foyle in the smaller stations category. A colleague of Leddy's cited the morning show as one of her main successes, and said she had "a lot of responsibility" for it.

Though there may some scepticism in RTÉ at the appointment of an award-laden local radio manager as Radio 1 head, the Radio 1 staff Village talked to were surprised rather than hostile. She beat two well-known, and respected, RTÉ stalwarts for the job – TV producer Betty Purcell and Radio 1's Paddy Glackin. Nobody in the Radio 1 seems to know or have worked with Leddy.

One Radio 1 source described the general reaction to her appointment as "benign speculation". Another said the immediate response of staff in the radio building was "a lot of frantic Googling".

Raised in Sheffield, schooled in Monaghan and now working in Derry, Leddy nonetheless has roots and connections in Dublin. She has two children at college here (a third is in secondary school in Tralee), and her mother was from Dublin. Her maternal grandfather, Cormac Ó Cadhlaigh, was professor of Irish at University College Dublin, and wrote the classic Irish textbook, Slí an Eolas. The family are all native Irish speakers.

Leddy's father was from Belfast. Both parents were doctors, based in Sheffield. Leddy is 48 (born in 1957). Aged 11, she went to boarding school at St Louis in Monaghan, and then went to Trinity in Dublin to study Irish, English and History, graduating in 1978. She worked in English local radio, presenting and producing, and then in 1988 moved to Radio 4, where she produced Women's Hour; a consumer programme; You and Yours; and a media programme, Mediumwave. In 1998, she moved to Radio Foyle as manager, though her role there was hands-on at times, and Leddy did produce programmes.

Frank Galligan worked with her to devise a programme he presented for Radio Foyle based on their mutual love of "roots country" music. (Galligan is now with Highland Radio in Donegal.) "She actually did the graft," he says, "went into studio, taped it and edited it." He describes her as "very sociable and very affable", and as a "pretty hands-on manager". Leddy also produced a media show, Media Matters.

Gerry Anderson, who presents the station's flagship mid-morning programme, describes her as "very bright and articulate" and a "good manager". Whatever about the awards, "the main thing is how to keep a team together and engender enthusiasm", and Leddy did this well at Foyle, he says.

"She's loud, she's good company, she tells people what she thinks," said another former colleague.

Whatever about any culture shock, one of the main challenges Leddy will face at RTÉ will be working out what her job actually is. She will be responsible to the Director of Radio, Adrian Moynes, who has responsibility for Radio 1, 2fm and Lyric FM. Inevitably, his focus is on Radio 1 both because of personal interest and because it is by far the most important of the stations. If Ana Leddy hasn't the determination to "encourage" him to spend his time attending corporate meetings, she could find her remit restricted.

Another key challenge will be reintroducing women's voices into the daytime schedule: from 9am to 5pm, there are no women presenting, and on weeks when Áine Lawlor (Morning Ireland) and Rachel English (Five Seven Live) are not on, and Val Joyce is presenting Late Date, there are no women presenters aside from Maxi on Risin' Time from 5.30-7am.

Leddy will also oversee the first real ratings for Ryan Tubridy, who has been panned by the critics and has struggled to bridge the news/current affairs focuses of Morning Ireland and Today with Pat Kenny. She will also have to cope with a steady decline in the listenership of Radio 1, a decline that will hasten with new competition in the national talk-radio market, most likely from Newstalk 106 if, as expected, it gets the national radio license in the spring.