Tuesday 16 January 2018

Super sub: How axed Brendan bounced back...

He lost his chat show, but Brendan O'Connor has already impressed on radio.

Widely praised debut: Brendan O'Connor insists he is 'just keeping the seat warm for whoever the anointed one will be'
Widely praised debut: Brendan O'Connor insists he is 'just keeping the seat warm for whoever the anointed one will be'
John Murray
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

Television star Brendan O'Connor has been making airwaves after he slipped into the hot seat vacated by veteran RTÉ jock John Murray earlier this month.

Officially, the erstwhile Saturday Night Show presenter is only holding the fort in the mornings on Radio 1 since The John Murray Show ended earlier this month.

Speaking on the stop-gap Brendan O'Connor Show show earlier this week, however, guest Marty Whelan let slip that it could be a more permanent arrangement.

Welcoming the Corkman across the car park to the RTÉ Radio Centre, Lyric FM host Whelan ribbed: "How are you getting on? They tell me you're doing awfully well - it'll probably be permanent."

Despite consistently drawing a huge audience, even beating The Late Late Show on one occasion with more than half a million viewers, O'Connor's Saturday night TV chat show was axed in May after five years.

Meanwhile at Montrose, Murray's popular morning-radio programme was also pulled after five years as part of a major reshuffle at the station.

As rumours swirled around 'D04' in recent days, however, the Sunday Independent journalist insisted he was not making himself too comfortable in Studio 10.

"I think it's been portrayed in placed like I've slipped into John Murray's still warm bed and I couldn't wait to get rid of him," he told listeners on his first morning of summer cover on 88-90 MHz FM. "I'm not replacing John Murray. Nobody could replace John Murray.

"I was booked in for holiday cover, okay," the broadcaster continued. "I'm here for four weeks. All I'm doing really is keeping the seat warm for whoever the anointed one will be in four weeks, whether it's Tubs or whoever else."

Nonetheless, going head-to-head in the prestigious 9am slot with Ryan Tubridy on 2fm, Ivan Yates and Chris Donoghue on Newstalk and Anton Savage on Today FM, O'Connor is sure to have impressed radio bosses this week as he juggled guests as diverse as True Detective star Timothy V Murphy, 10 year-old MMA sensation Nathan Kelly and Senator David Norris.

After losing out on Saturday nights to RTÉ prodigal son Ray D'Arcy, the 45-year-old's widely praised radio debut certainly won't do his brand any harm either, according to Public Relations guru Mark Dunphy.

"The old saying 'a picture speaks a thousand words' certainly rings true in terms of broadcasting," says the founder of Clare-based media communications company DPR.

"If a presenter is interviewing someone on television, their [physical] mannerisms and interaction with the guest dictate how they are perceived by the audience. On radio, the focus is on their voice and whether they are good at letting people speak.

"So someone who excels on radio can be seen as less impressive on television."

"My own reading would be that Brendan O'Connor would thrive on radio as opposed to television," adds Dunphy. "As the presenter of a Saturday night television chat show, he would have had to crack jokes, keep the audience entertained and advertisers happy.

"With morning radio, it's a completely different audience. It's people in cars and homes who want to relax and listen to in-depth interviews.

"As a radio host, you have a lot more freedom to be yourself and steer interviews the way you want - especially live radio.

"Down through his career, Brendan has already proven himself as someone who's able to get the best out of people. On radio, I think he'll be able to put on less of a show and just be himself."

Love the presenter, or loathe him, one thing you couldn't accuse his star-crossed Saturday Night Show of being was forgettable.

Since its launch in 2010, comedian Oliver Callan famously came out on the show, Brian Kennedy walked off, Donal Walsh brought the nation to tears, Alex Reid proposed to Chantelle Houghton and then, of course, there was Pantigate.

"Looking back now, I suppose you'd have to say I was shit at it when I started," the dad-of-two, who previously fronted The Apprentice: You're Fired on TV3, said recently. "The first few shows we did were recorded with a delay, just in case I made a balls-up.

"But they put a good team around and let me at it in the hope that I would get better and slicker. I think I got better but I never got slicker."

Legendary broadcaster Donncha Ó Dúlaing, who a month ago retired from RTÉ Radio 1 after 53 years behind the mic, says he still tunes in to the station first thing, and, like Mark Dunphy, he believes O'Connor's personality will shine through on the more intimate medium.

"Since I retired four weeks ago, I've received 800 letters and cards from listeners all over the world," says the beloved Highways and Byways presenter. "Radio really touches a chord with people, and people are still listening to it in cars and at home.

"During my career, I did a fair deal of television, but I always found radio more personal - and more personable. It's the first thing you listen to in the morning and the last thing you listen to at night.

"In my early days, [radio] was very organised," adds the author of Donncha's World: The Roads, the Stories and the Wireless. "You played the ball that was given to you. Nowadays it's more flexible for presenters.

"There was a great Cork hurler, Christy Ring, who used to say, 'Keep your eye on the ball, even when the ref has it'. And that's my advice to Brendan O'Connor.

"As a presenter, your job is to offer enjoyment to listeners. It's a privilege to be part of their lives, and to have them as part of yours."

Having already been snapped up for a new TV entertainment show that is tipped to replace RTÉ One's underwhelming Midweek Movie strand next year, for now, O'Connor is unlikely to be thinking too far outside the box.

Glen Killane, the enthused managing director of RTÉ Television, has said: "Brendan has proven himself to be a great talent and we are delighted that he will remain central to RTÉ One's primetime schedule with a new show."

Elsewhere, John Murray is also set to return to RTÉ Radio 1 in a brand-new role this autumn.

"John Murray's show was very popular," says Mark Dunphy. "Ultimately, it boils down to the direction RTÉ wants to go with that slot.

"I wouldn't be surprised if The Saturday Night Show was part of a greater scheme to position Brendan O'Connor for morning radio."

Either way, the broadcaster says he's just happy to be spending Saturday nights with his wife Sarah and two daughters again.

"I missed so many events in Anna and Mary's little lives over the last five years," he admitted.

"I also missed countless nights out, weddings, stags, weekends away and visits to mum and dad. I'll be glad to have a more normal life now."

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