Wednesday 13 December 2017

Old pals pull out all the stops in new radio rivalry

* Kenny and O'Rourke play down rivalry
* Pair swap texts before showdown

Sean O'Rourke with producer Kay Sheehy and guest Edna O'Brien
Sean O'Rourke with producer Kay Sheehy and guest Edna O'Brien
Pat Kenny with his Newstalk team, from left: researcher Aisling Moore, broadcasting assistant Anne Marie Kane, producer Eithne Kelly, and researcher Jessica Kelly

Breda Heffernan and Laura Butler

IT was the eve of the much-vaunted showdown between Pat Kenny and Sean O'Rourke, dubbed the "radio war" between Newstalk and RTE.

But the two friends were busy texting each other, joking that they knew their rival's guest line-up.

The two veteran broadcasters faced off in their first head-to-head battle yesterday and pulled out all the stops with guests including Bono, Hans Blix, Ivan Yates, Edna O'Brien and Joe Schmidt.

And while the former RTE colleagues traded gentle digs after their debut shows ended, they also revealed they had been engaged in banter behind the scenes.

O'Rourke told how he exchanged text messages with Kenny the night before their first face-off.

"I had a very friendly exchange of texts with Pat last night. I said 'you've Ivan', he said 'you've been on to Joe'.

"So obviously we both knew what the other was doing. But it's just a fleeting bit of fun," he added.

And despite being veteran broadcasters, both men admitted to having a few butterflies on Sunday night.

"I didn't sleep very well. It's not that I was tossing and turning, worrying about the show; it's that you're running through things in your head, going over the running order," said Kenny. He also admitted to being "tense" as his new show got under way.

Kenny kicked off his programme with a pre-recorded interview with Bono before he was joined in studio by former minister and his Newstalk stablemate Ivan Yates, who gave his first interview since being discharged from bankruptcy.

Kenny also interviewed Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin.

Meanwhile, at RTE, O'Rourke guests were Edna O'Brien, former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, and new Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt. He then broadcast live coverage of Seamus Heaney's funeral Mass – something his Newstalk rival did not have. O'Rourke said deciding to cover the funeral live was the "right" thing to do even if it may have turned off some listeners.

"We knew some people mightn't have liked the idea of carrying a funeral Mass and I suppose you've got to say 'what is the right thing to do as opposed to what is the populist thing to do', but there's no question that we did the right thing."

However, he conceded that some people may have "dipped out" with the lengthy funeral coverage taking the programme some 50 minutes over its scheduled time slot.

And in a little side-swipe at his former RTE stablemate, who drew criticism for having no women among his debut guests on Newstalk, O'Rourke said he could not envisage this happening on his new show.

"I would be amazed if on any, for instance, discussion programme, we had an all-male presence around the table...a huge proportion of our audience is female so that should obviously be reflected in the programmes," he said.


Meanwhile, Kenny queried the decision by O'Rourke to include an Oliver Callan skit on the battle of the airwaves.

"I don't see why RTE would want to remind people I'm on another station."

Kenny received a standing ovation from his Newstalk colleagues as he left the studio at 12.30pm, a reaction he described as "overwhelming".

He also received a string of goodwill messages from former colleagues, including Miriam O'Callaghan and Marian Finucane.

"There was such a wave of goodwill, gratifyingly, because I must have made some enemies in RTE," he said.

O'Rourke said the notion of a radio war with Kenny was "a bit of fun", but insisted he had more competition than just Newstalk.

"He (Kenny) and I are just two figures in a very large field. This is not a two-horse race. This is like the Grand National or the Galway Plate.

"It's a long race, a lot of jumps to be gotten over, some serious up-hill running to be done and a lot of stamina required," he added.

Irish Independent

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