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Outspoken radio star had world at his feet

FROM humble beginnings in pirate radio, Neil Prendeville (49) forged one of the most successful broadcasting careers in Ireland.

The former Cork City Local Radio (CCLR) and ABC disc jockey boasts arguably the best radio job outside of Dublin -- with his morning show on 96FM averaging more than 100,000 listeners.

Controversial, outspoken and irreverent, Prendeville's show is the closest thing local radio had ever come to rivalling the major RTE programmes of Gerry Ryan, Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy.

Such is his profile that he was, for a time, even featured in Cork's annual Christmas pantomime.

Several years ago, 96FM's owners, UTV, locked their biggest star into a money-spinning long-term contract reputed to be worth more than €150,000 a year.

The 'Neil Prendeville Show' is now even sponsored by a British tabloid.

Yet media success for a long time eluded the Cork-born broadcaster.

After starting out in the 1970s in pirate radio, he became increasingly frustrated at his inability to secure entry to RTE and mainstream broadcasting.

He opted to leave Ireland for a time, working in the Canadian media. But his return coincided with the setting up of licensed radio stations nationwide by the IRTC in the 1980s.

Radio South secured the much sought-after licence in Cork in 1989 -- and Neil Prendeville landed the prime anchor slot in the morning.

When Radio South transformed into 96FM, its audience figures and advertising revenues soared. Prendeville effectively became the 'face' of 96FM -- and his popularity and earnings rocketed.

As his broadcasting career reached its zenith, associated business success wasn't long in following. He was given his own column in a local free sheet, 'The Cork News', having previously written a column for 'The Evening Echo'.

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Cork buses are currently festooned with giant images of Prendeville and Newstalk's George Hook.

He also became involved in a successful Cork city centre restaurant, The Boardwalk Grill, with hotelier John Gately in 2008.

The 96FM star was even sought after for the after-dinner speaking circuit.

His wife, Paula Lenihan, is the editorial director of the successful Irish social magazine 'RSVP'.

The couple -- who have two teenage children -- are regularly photographed on Ireland's social circuit, often hosting VIPs at their Douglas home or at the Boardwalk Grill. Amongst their friends are celebrity lawyer Gerald Kean and his partner Lisa Murphy, as well as 'The Apprentice' star Bill Cullen and his partner Jackie Lavin.

Prendeville spent the bulk of yesterday with Mr Kean at an undisclosed location -- and was said to be "deeply distraught" over the allegations of lewd behaviour on the Aer Lingus flight.

Mr Kean said his client hadn't received so much as a parking ticket before -- and was a man with an unblemished record who had supported charities and noble causes throughout his life.

"He is shocked and horrified -- his initial reaction to me was that if this had occurred on the plane, which he doesn't remember and cannot confirm, he thought he would have been arrested and taken off the plane in handcuffs," he added.

"In life, everybody makes mistakes -- the mistake here is that he shouldn't have taken tablets, shouldn't have taken alcohol and probably shouldn't be in a position where he cannot remember what happens," Mr Kean said.

"This is a huge personal embarrassment for him. It is very difficult for his family, his friends and his employer and his work colleagues."

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