Head to head: Ryan vs Ray
RTE's golden boy is pipped by Today FM veteran Ray D'Arcy in the latest ratings. Radio critic Darragh McManus works out why
It's no doubt a tough and daunting task, going toe to toe with RTE. The state broadcaster is a well-funded, long-established -- and, in fairness, often excellent -- behemoth. But that's exactly what Ray D'Arcy and Today FM have done -- and they've come out on top.
D'Arcy's self-titled Today FM show has replaced 2FM's Tubridy (again, the name of both programme and man) as reigning king of mid-morning radio.
According to the latest official JNLR figures, D'Arcy's programme draws an average of 219,000 listeners every weekday, 3,000 more than his RTE rival.
Indeed, Ryan Tubridy's predecessor in this 2FM slot, Gerry Ryan, regularly used to attract an audience of almost 80,000 more again.
Ironically, it was recently revealed that RTE tried to poach Ray D'Arcy to fill that space after Gerry Ryan's untimely death last April, with bosses Clare Duignan and John McMahon even calling to his home in the attempt to recruit him.
However, D'Arcy was happy to stay with the 14-year-old independent station, where he has forged a reputation and a rapport with the audience -- and clearly, his decision has paid off.
It seems likely that the two Rs, Ryan and Ray, will be battling it out for our hearts, minds and ears at mid-morning for the foreseeable future.
So how do they shape up against each other?
BROADNESS OF APPEAL
D’Arcy has the everyman shtick down to a tee. He’s funny, charming and easy-going, with an instinctive ability to make guests feel at ease. He comes across as a regular guy, and crucially, it never seems a pose. What you see – or rather hear – is what you get. Listening to his show is like hanging out with a bunch of pals for a few hours.
Tubridy has forged an image as the ‘young fogey’, which marks him out as original and comfortable in his own skin. He’s also pretty adept at talking to different types of people. However, the fact that he’s the scion of a Blackrock political dynasty, and has been embedded within RTE since he was a nipper, can make him seem a member of an elite, rather than ‘one of us’.
INTELLIGENCE OF SUBJECT MATTER
The Ray D’Arcy Show generally sticks to light material: jokey quizzes, fun interviews, quirky real-life stories. Having said that, there is a definite intelligence behind the playfulness, and this kind of tone requires a skilled lightness of touch. D’Arcy is miles removed from the shrieking idiots on pop music shows.
Tubridy also mixes the light and heavy, but there’s more of a focus on things like books, history and politics. One very admirable quality of the man is that he’s never hidden his love of reading or tried to play “dumb”. He expects the listener to come with him, not the other way around, which is meant as a compliment.
For the D’Arcy Show one would have to give the nod to ‘Fix-It Friday’, in which Ray and his partner (on-air and real-life), Jenny Kelly, answer all those trivial, obscure and downright ridiculous questions that have been pestering listeners. Everything from the name of a character in Wanderly Wagon to the best week of the year to get married, weather-wise.
‘Nob Nation’, Oliver Callan’s satirical slot, actually airs on a few other RTE shows from time to time, but itsnatural home is Tubridy. ‘Nob Nation’ offers a nice break from the straight chat, and adds an element of humour that can sometimes feel lacking in the show. This week’s Charlie Bird skit, for instance, was great fun.
This is something that’s much more important on radio than most critics seem to realise, and D’Arcy’s is just right, really, both for the medium and this specific programme. A pleasant, not-too-strong rural accent, softish tones, nicely modulated… all in all, pretty good to listen to.
Tubridy’s voice, in fairness, strikes us as something you either love or you don’t. For some listeners it’s deep, rich and commanding; for others, there’s something rather harsh about the timbre of his voice. It kicks up against the ear rather than brushing easily past. But his accent is inoffensive enough, and at least he doesn’t shout and holler like some of his 2FM colleagues.
D’Arcy’s most significant on-air campaign was the very bluntly titled ‘Don’t Be a Fucking Eejit’, which involved true stories of deaths and accidents on our roads, and was aimed at shocking the general public into driving more safely. This worthy cause was rewarded with the Community/Social Action award at the 2006 PPI Irish Radio Awards.
Tubridy has long been a devoted public ally of the written word, which in itself is admirable enough. But what’s more impressive is that his Book Club, which ran for several years on Radio 1, didn’t go for the easy option. Heavy, sometimes gruelling works such as The White Tiger, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Brideshead Revisited and The Road were all introduced to a mass audience — a subtly subversive act you mightn’t expect from a seemingly conservative man.
D’Arcy has remained relatively gaffefree, although the aforementioned road safety campaign was criticised by some for the four-letter title. He was also dragged into the Brian Cowen ‘Picturegate’ controversy in 2009, when artist Conor Casby emailed the show to claim responsibility for the paintings. The gardai even demanded the programme hand over this correspondence; they refused.
Tubridy’s biggest controversy occurred in early 2009, when he initially refused to take a pay-cut in line with his RTE colleagues, claiming there were legal impediments to doing so. After some angry press condemnation and even an online hate campaign, Tubridy relented and took a 10pc reduction in salary, though a bad taste lingered with the public for a while.
BIGGEST BROADCASTING ACHIEVEMENT
D’Arcy has had a fine career on both TV and radio. As well as those already mentioned, he has hosted such hit shows as The Rose of Tralee (taking over from Tubridy, as it happened, for a four-year stint), Blackboard Jungle, 2Phat and The Panel, and appeared as a contestant on Celebrity Bainisteoir, completing an impressive CV.
On radio Tubridy has done The Full Irish, Morning Glory and The Tubridy Show; on television he cut his teeth with Saturday night chat-show Tubridy Tonight. But of course, no job in Irish broadcasting measures up to his current Friday night shift: The Late, Late Show. To host this iconic programme makes you a part of Irish cultural history, and makes Tubridy a clear winner in this category.
Apart from the PPI award for the road safety campaign, D’Arcy won a Jacob’s Award in 1993 for presenting The Den. He’s a three-time winner of Best Irish Radio DJ at the now-defunct Meteor Music Awards, and followed up the earlier PPI prize with Best Light Entertainment Programme at their 2007 ceremony.
Tubridy claimed Best Irish DJ at the 2004 Meteors. And switching media to the TV Now Awards, he then won Best Male TV Presenter in 2009 and Favourite Irish TV Show in 2010. He was also named Dubliner of the Year by The Dubliner magazine two years ago.
Unsurprisingly for a lifestyle show, there hasn’t been too much about General Election 2011. But D’Arcy this week interviewed all the main party leaders; as one would expect from a show with such a strong interactive element, he mostly put listeners’ questions rather than his own. Interesting, if not heavy-hitting.
Self-confessed political anorak Tubridy had quite a lot on the election, mostly looking for an alternative angle from which to examine the issues. Particularly good over recent weeks were the pieces on foreigners not being allowed to vote despite being resident here long-term, and an unexpectedly fascinating chat with Sean O’Rourke about the voting process.
VERDICT: Ryan is pipped at the post again