EDITORIAL GAY BYRNE is a national institution: it is hardly too much to say, a venerable institution.Half the population were not even born when the Late Late Show first brought to our television screens a mixture of controversy and entertainment. His morning radio programme, too, has become a part of our lives; for many, an all but indispensable part. His forthcoming retirement will truly mark the end of an era.
And what an era! Mr Byrne is above all a consummate professional, with an unerring feel for the popular taste. But the Late Late Show is far more than entertainment. It has played an invaluable part in opening up debate, in airing previously taboo subjects, in slaughtering sacred cows.
That was especially so in its earlier years. Nowadays taboo subjects and sacred cows are thinner on the ground. People discuss the most intimate details of their lives with Oprah Winfrey. The time has come to move on.
But to where? For Mr Byrne, the answer is easy: into a well-earned retirement, comforted by the affection of his countless fans and the good wishes of those who admire him for shining lights on our society. For RTE, the answer will be harder to find.
It knows there is a limit to listeners' tolerance of second-rate chatshows. It will have to discover, or invent, new formulae. And it will have not only to seek another presenter for the Late Late Show but, if it is wise, to devise a wholly different kind of show. The tallest of orders and the ultimate accolade. For, just this once, someone is literally irreplaceable.