After a start on The Gerry Ryan Show, the Corkman has become one of RTÉ’s longest-serving presenters, his easy style providing succour during the pandemic
On the face of it, music radio should have gone the way of the dodo and the typewriter. In an era in which we have endless choice when it comes to podcasts and streaming music, the idea of listening to a song-based show, with a small bit of chatter, seems very quaint.
And, yet, advances in technology haven’t come close to pushing such broadcasting to extinction. If anything, it’s in ruddy good health. And John Creedon’s eponymously titled show is healthier than most.
The Corkman’s evening music programme has long been a staple on RTÉ Radio 1 and its audience has remained buoyant.
“It’s a person rather than an algorithm that’s choosing the playlist,” Creedon says from his Leeside home, via Zoom. “Of course, anyone can choose their own songs, but radio provides a communal experience. Even if you’re on your own, you’re sharing a listening experience with many other people.”
He is cautious when choosing the right words to talk about how long-running radio shows, such as his own, provided succour during the pandemic. “I don’t want to sound big-headed, but a lot of people told me that it really helped them. It provided an escape. There was such doom and gloom and there’s only so much of it that people can take. But music provides escape for most of us. I’ve always loved Radio 1 — and I still think of it as a village square, where we — in Ireland — all meet.”
RTÉ Radio 1 isn’t the first place one thinks of when it comes to music programming, but Creedon has a devoted following — and his show features music that appeals to both music obsessives and the merely curious.
He has carte blanche to play what he likes — none of the play-listing requirements that other presenters on rival stations have to contend with — and he puts considerable time into giving each programme distinctiveness and ‘flow’. “The culture in Radio 1,” he says, “is that programmes should be curated. I see the logic in it — it’s not an indulgence.”
He is especially fond of Saturday Sounds with Neil Doherty. “Neil has a real joie de vivre. He loves pop music and through every link he’s chuckling. He’s playing Abba and the Nolan Sisters and stuff that I wouldn’t think of, but for me it’s really — it’s who he is. He just loves it and I find that very refreshing.”
One of the reasons why Creedon’s show connects so powerfully is because it doesn’t feel as though he has laboured on it — but like so many of the good things in life, there’s more effort at play than one might imagine.
“I’d always go in with a plan — a very loose plan. To me, it’s a bit like a jigsaw — it doesn’t have to fit perfectly. I sometimes get it [the set list] wrong, but to quote St Augustine, ‘To err is human, to forgive divine’.
“People can be demanding,” he adds. “‘I’ve asked you twice to play Kate Bush, or whatever, and you haven’t. Why?’ And I say, ‘Because it’s not a jukebox and if it was, I don’t see your two bob coming in’.”
On the afternoon he chats to Review he is mulling over the playlist for that night’s show. “I was thinking about Margaret Barry,” he says, of the famed Irish Traveller and folk singer, “and how she would sing ballads on street corners and, you know, those street singers really had to holler so I thought, ‘I know what I’ll do: I’ll play Big Mama Thornton and Margaret Barry side by side. Two women from different continents, but quite similar in so many ways — they didn’t need microphones.”
Creedon says he never gets “overly academic” about music. He’s not that pushed about who the producer was, or what instruments were played, or what studio trickery was involved — he says he loves the finished product. He’s not snobbish about music either, recoiling from notions of what’s bad and good or what’s deemed acceptable or not. And he’s happy to use the music identification app Shazam to identify music that appeals to him when out and about.
Although a fan of the American jazz and soul singer Gregory Porter, he didn’t realise it was he who was singing a song that had him reaching for the Shazam app on his phone. “I was in a bar in Croatia when I heard this song. Sounded a bit like Marvin Gaye around the time of What’s Going On. It was nine or 10 minutes long and angry, with a lot of drum rolling and crashing. So I Shazammed it and it was 1960 What? from Gregory Porter and it just didn’t sound like him, but the song grabbed me straight away. I love the idea that radio can turn you on to something great.” A few nights before this interview, he duly plays 1960 What?
Creedon is one of RTÉ’s longest-serving presenters. He landed a job there in 1987, initially cutting his teeth on The Gerry Ryan Show.
For most, their introduction to Creedon was via Terence, a comedic fictional character of his creation. The campy Cork hairdresser was one of the quirkier features of Irish broadcasting in the late 1980s and a pair of novelty hits charted strongly. He was determined to prove he was no flash in the pan though, and he demonstrated cultural smarts with a short-lived show Music on the Move on Radio 1.
Creedon has had a nicely unorthodox career too — his bread and butter is his nightly music show, but he’s presented several factual series for RTÉ that match his passions for Ireland, travel, place-names and the Irish language. There have been a slew of accompanying books too. Like any wise soul in the media game today, Creedon has shown himself to be adaptable although he says he is beginning to say ‘no’ more often — getting that work-life balance is more important to him now.
He clearly gets a kick from the music show. “It was great during the pandemic,” he says. “I was able to go into the studio and just disappear into it.” He is his own producer too.
“I went in [to RTÉ Cork studios] every single day. I was asked to keep the home fires burning. So, without becoming the Vera Lynn of radio, loads of people said to me, ‘You kept us sane, there was something consistent that was there for years before the pandemic — and went right through the pandemic and right out the other side. You weren’t playing pandemic songs. You weren’t playing We Shall Overcome. It was Tuesday and Creedon was still rabbiting on about some old fella from Africa or something like that.”
He says he is flattered by the kind words, but insists he doesn’t take the praise too seriously. There will be no swelled head. “I’m doing something that I love. It’s like, I’m in my garden shed — well, not literally — and I’m with my mates [the listeners] and I’m saying, ‘Listen, I heard this fella today. I know it’s a bit distorted, but see if you can stretch to listen to this guy. He can go to five octaves, so stand well back!’”
‘The John Creedon Show’ is on RTÉ Radio 1 at 8pm every week night.