independent

Friday 25 April 2014

Top of the bill year after year on the airwaves

OVER the last 25 years, Gay Byrne's RTE morning radio show generated lots of debate and reaction and landed the outspoken show host in the headlines on more than a few occasions.

OVER the last 25 years, Gay Byrne's RTE morning radio show generated lots of debate and reaction and landed the outspoken show host in the headlines on more than a few occasions.

Darling of the housewives for over two decades, his two hour radio show won high ratings until the advent of competition from new regional commercial stations began eating into his listenership numbers.

Gaybo partly blamed his fall off in listeners to the number of women returning to work. He said CSO figures showed that 70,000 housewifes returned to work in a three year period up to 1995 and a great number would have listened to Radio One in the mornings.

Gay's annual survival special which produced the infamous `lambo' incident when 2FM's enfant terrible, Gerry Ryan claimed to have killed and eaten a lamb to survive hunger in Connemara generated a life all of its own.

The Gay Byrne Show's yearly survival special became a big hit, with his Late Late Show viewers seeing the end product at the end of the week.

The annual national lottery gold bar treasure hunt also attracted a huge audience to the morning slot, with some hunters planning their annual holidays so they could take off after Gay gave the clues each day.

There were tears and laughter in equal amounts and lots of jazz, Gaybo's favourite type of music.

The nation came to a standstill when the Gay Byrne Show did a moving programme devoted to letters about Anne Lovett's death in Granard. His staged musicals such as Oklahoma, also produced the goodies for Gay and his Christmas Eve shows from Grafton Street were always a favourite with listeners.

This year the Christmas Eve broadcast will be especially newsworthy as it will mark Gaybo's retirement from the show which made him king of the airwaves.

His daughter Crona has said the family are very relieved at his decision to quit the radio show. ``We felt it was time for him to bow out'', she said.

Gay Byrne had been cutting back on his broadcasting commitments in recent years after suffering a minor health scare in 1995 and he quit as compere of the Rose of Tralee contest.

The following year, he made way for his sidekick Joe Duffy to host the show in a two hander arrangement on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Gareth O'Callaghan later did the job but left for 2FM after becoming disgruntled. Des Cahill co-chaired the show with Gay last season.

Mr Byrne and his family were holidaying at their second home near Maghery outside Dungloe when he finally confirmed his career decision after months of denials.

Gay has rejected as ``total concoctions'' newspaper reports that he would quit his radio show this year.

Gay lives in a bungalow at Dane's Hollow in Howth, and his neighbours include Riverdance couple John McColgan and Moya O`Doherty who tried to woo him to their Radio Ireland station before it was launched in March 1997, later revamped as Today FM.

Born in Dublin and educated by the Christian Brothers at Synge Street, Gaybo worked in insurance before getting involved in television and working for Granada in Manchester.

He returned to Dublin and married Kathleen Watkins 31 years ago. They have two grown up daughters Crona and Suzy.

Gay suffered a financial blow in 1984 when he discovered that his best friend and accountant, Russell Murphy had embezzled him out of a reported £320,000. Author Hugh Leonard also fell victim in the fraud.

When Gay wanted more time off, RTE agreed to him sharing the slot. It was a sign of his importance to the station that Montrose bosses agree.

When Chris Evans tried to get a similar deal, the BBC refused.

There are suggestions that rather than allow Des Cahill to occupy the Gay Byrne radio slot five days a week, it will no longer be occupied by a personality and instead, it will be replaced by shorter, more focussed programmes.

Helen Shaw, Head of Radio at RTE has said: ``It's hugely important for us to develop new talent. The easiest solution is to move talent from one place to another, the hardest thing is to grow new talent''.

While Gay Byrne is going after Christmas, Radio One also promises more changes and the radio soap Konvenience Korner is destined for the chop.

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