Sunday 21 July 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: Radio just on the CV rather than deep in the blood

Ryan Tubridy is no newcomer so RTE should stop the charade, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

CHEERS: Ryan Tubridy making his long-awaited return to RTE Radio One after five unsatisfactory years on 2fm
CHEERS: Ryan Tubridy making his long-awaited return to RTE Radio One after five unsatisfactory years on 2fm

Eilis O'Hanlon

When Ray D'Arcy returned to RTE at the beginning of February from Today FM, his very first interview on the new show was with Gay Byrne.

Last week, when Ryan Tubridy also came back to Radio One, one of his first interviews was with Gaybo's fellow radio legend Terry Wogan.

The rationale in both cases was clumsily obvious, namely a hope that some of the magic rubbed off on the youngsters and that listeners would start subliminally associating them with the pantheon of greats.

Unfortunately, putting them up for comparison in this way simply exposes the limitations of the younger brood; and it's not even as if they're that young any more. D'Arcy's in his 50s now, and Ryan Tubridy, despite being repeatedly unveiled as the golden boy, with each new show a supposed fresh start, is 42 and has been doing this job for years. Still it's hard to answer the question: who is Ryan Tubridy? What is it about him as a broadcaster that makes him unique?

Wogan took over the breakfast show on BBC Radio Two at the age of 34 and quickly established it as an institution with millions of listeners. Gay Byrne, incredibly, began presenting the The Late Late Show in his 20s, and by the age of 42 was pretty much indispensable to Irish broadcasting. The Gerry Ryan Show started when its host was only 32 and genuinely was ground breaking, which is one reason it's never been properly replaced.

All those broadcasters brought a natural authority to their craft, and, crucially, each was quite different from the other, whereas Tubridy does still sound somewhat generic. Those others had radio in their blood, whereas for Tubridy it often feels as if radio is merely on his CV, and he's been shunted back and forth from Radio One to 2fm, whilst never sounding quite at home on either of them.

That inner amorphousness makes it all the more absurd for RTE to currently promote Tubs as a man who's "not afraid to share his opinion", promising that "everything is up for discussion". Really?

Gaybo certainly wasn't afraid to share his opinions, which often put him at loggerheads with RTE's politically correct canteen culture. It's doubtful that Tubridy would ever allow himself to stray too far from his entitled class's Irish Times certainties. The boldest thing he said last week is that he wasn't much of a fan of "mindfulness", but that's hardly Voltairian bravery.

Otherwise, he contented himself with a few remarks about refugees which placed him firmly within the consensus of nice Dublin 4 opinion.

Nor does the show feel very "fast paced", whatever RTE claims, and the problem there is that when too much time is devoted to an issue Tubridy soon runs out of things to say.

His interview with Paul Murphy, survivor of the Thomond Bridge tragedy, was a case in point. He really struggled with this one to a point where listeners were surely cringing on his behalf: "I suspect there's probably quite a lot of shock in your life at the moment. Maybe a lot of this will . . . have to be processed for you at some time."

He sounded much happier when talking to author Anthony Horowitz about his new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, but that merely emphasised the strangeness of the mix, neither fish nor fowl, neither hard news nor light entertainment. Gaybo was so deft at mixing serious and light that it masked what a difficult thing it is to do.

And that being so, perhaps Tubridy should have learned by now what subjects to avoid? It's not as if he's obligated to tackle every news story. There's only an hour each day to fill; he could easily jettison whatever doesn't work. Sport, to take another example. Tubridy should never be allowed to discuss sport on air. His enthusiasm sounds inauthentic, and he makes gaffes, such as mixing up details of the weekend's GAA action, before letting slip that he'd actually spent Sunday afternoon watching Goldfinger.

Listeners are hardly going to riot in the streets if he ditches subjects in which he's every right to be uninterested. -

But then it goes back to that question. What does he want to talk about? What, if any, are his real passions?

Ray D'Arcy's team had more than 100 meetings to decide where to take his new show before it went on air, and presumably there was a similarly intense consultation process in the run up to Tubridy's return.

In both cases, though, it feels as if the shows are thrown together randomly; as if Tubridy's not in control of the shows he presents, they're simply happening to him.

He needs to impose his personality on the airwaves, so there's a real point to that hour between Morning Ireland and Today With Sean O'Rourke; because how can we know if we need his new show until he tells us exactly what it is?

Sunday Independent

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