Wednesday 17 July 2019

Will RTE ever fill the hole left by Gay Byrne?

Selina Scott
Selina Scott

Eilis O'Hanlon

Think of it as the awkward moment when you're drafted in as holiday cover for another broadcaster, only for that chap to be abruptly removed from the slot he's held for five years.

"I'm not replacing John Murray," the host of the new Brendan O'Connor Show was keen to stress as he began his stint last Monday. "All I'm doing is keeping the seat warm for whoever the anointed one will be in four weeks, whether it's Tubs or whoever else." He then had to quickly deny knowing if it is indeed Ryan Tubridy who's taking over.

Tubridy, of course, held this slot once before. Prior to that it was filled by Marian Finucane, who took over in the late 90s from Gay Byrne, who'd been there since 1973. In a way, RTE is still struggling to replace Gaybo, and one has to wonder if it ever will.

O'Connor is quite an unusual broadcaster in that he exudes an air of potential abrasiveness rather than the usual unctuousness of the breed. Not knowing quite what he'll say next keeps it interesting for listeners.

Embracing the unexpected is one of the joys of radio. Idly scanning the dial last week brought up Radio 4's One To One, in which former breakfast-TV host Selina Scott could be heard interviewing a Church of England canon about ghosts. These included a spectre of a man who died on the toilet and then took to scaring a small child when she wanted to use the bathroom, and another of a man who didn't even realise he was dead. It all felt weirdly plausible.

An equally unexpected pleasure was the extended tribute to Jaws, both book and film, on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking. There was something comforting in listening to a group of men talk about their connection to this iconic story involving another group of men hunting a shark, even if it could have done without novelist Will Self wittering on about "the primal omphalos of narrative".

Interestingly, the one female to feature in the programme didn't remember her first viewing of the film at all.

Two former Ministers for Justice also made unusual appearances on radio this week. The first was Nora Owen, who was packed off by Newstalk's Breakfast show to watch and review Magic Mike XXL, the new film about male strippers.

Her opinion was that it was really a story about male bonding, but Chris Donoghue and Ivan Yates were more interested in getting all the details. "Was there baby oil? Was there full nudity?" Apparently not, said Owen, playing along, but "there were silver thongs covering their little bits… well, their big bits actually."

On Thursday it was the turn of Alan Shatter, a guest on Moncrieff on the same station, where he talked about his interests outside politics and read some of his poetry.

It was hard to shake the suspicion that some fun was being had with him. Either way, his mere presence annoyed more left-wing listeners, which did rather prove his point about the rise of political intolerance.

Sunday Independent

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