Entertainment Radio

Sunday 17 November 2019

'Tony Fenton liked people to be happy'

Tony Fenton
Tony Fenton

Eilis O'Hanlon

It's hard to believe that anything could be less entertaining than Liveline's regular Funny Friday, but the Gift Jokes slot on Today FM's Ian Dempsey Show just pips it to the post when it comes to sheer unremitting awfulness.

Last Monday, they even dredged up an old Tommy Cooper joke: "I was cleaning out the attic the other day with the wife. Filthy, dirty and covered with cobwebs . . . but she's good with the kids."

"Ah the oldies, the oldies, the oldies, I love it," said Dempsey - but does he really? Or is the strained laughter which follows each not-so-witty witticism part of some elaborate exercise in irony?

A guest on RTE Radio One's Marian Finucane last weekend recalled how, when the pioneering Women Today broadcast two shows in a row on female sexual problems in the 1970s, a former deputy controller of RTE told an editorial meeting that it had put him off his lunch. "His dinner," corrected Marian, who had clearly etched the event in her memory. "It now feels like another world," someone said, which is putting it mildly.

A sign of how much things have changed came last Sunday, when BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour hosted a debate - at teatime - on the topic: Does pornography empower women? Some said it did. Some said it didn't. No doubt 100 years from now, radio debates will still be asking the same questions.

What was interesting about this particular programme was that the audience actually changed its mind, as a majority against the proposition turned into a rough 50/50 split on a final show of hands. Has a single person in Ireland had his or her mind changed by similar hours of media wrangling over the same-sex marriage referendum? Doubtful.

That's why Senator Ronan Mullen shouldn't worry too much about the "groupthink" which he claimed last week dominates the Irish media's coverage of the issue.

Thursday's Moncrieff wasn't exactly doing its best to disabuse him of the notion, however. Asked to comment on the senator's comments, Sean's guest, Irish Times journalist Patsy McGarry, replied: "The media is out to get the church, is his view, and that's his view." They then went to an ad break. Very insightful.

The big radio news of the week was the death from cancer of legendary DJ Tony Fenton, formerly of RTE and latterly Today FM, which broadcast a touching Lunchtime News Special on Thursday, which noted how daytime radio can be "a bit down, a bit miserable, a bit moany" and how Fenton provided a welcome escape from all that.

Fenton's early days on pirate radio were recalled on Moncrieff by his friend and former colleague Gareth O'Callaghan, now at 4FM. Callaghan was a bit misty-eyed about "guys who came up through the old pirates, the school of hard knocks" - every generation creates its own icons, and they're all equally valid - but his fond respect for the man was palpable.

"Tony liked people to be happy," noted another friend. There are few better epitaphs.

Sunday Independent

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