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Terry Prone: How sad that our Gerry, the man with millions of friends, should die alone

He started in pirate radio. Broadcasting on a wing and a prayer, some of the programmes emanating from rooms soundproofed with egg boxes, the technology held together with rubber bands and string. Playtime with neither rules nor royalties.

Because of that, when he joined RTE, he didn't sound like the regular sailors on the mother ship. The diction was muddier, the attitude less polished. It was cheeky brat broadcasting, with a "like it or shove off" tone.

Traditional RTE listeners couldn't handle it. One minute they'd be listening to a summary of the newspapers of the day, the next subjected to a lengthy item of astonishing vulgarity on a topic like picking your nose in your car.

It always came as a surprise to Outraged in Foxrock that Ryan was a lawyer.

He seemed to go out of his way not to sound like one.

But he had the lawyer's instinct for arguing the opposite. He would pick on a topic 90pc of his listeners would agree on, lay it out in a way that suggested he was confirming all their prejudices and then suddenly tell them that they shouldn't have those prejudices and here was a guest on the phone to prove them wrong.

He might not have been born clutching a silver spoon, but he was certainly born clutching a stirring stick and he used it every day.

He didn't care what you believed in, as long as you could defend or promote it. To new guests, he was friendly but uncommitted. Until they were a proven asset to his show, he didn't invest in them.


But if an author of a new book could duck, weave, offer and sparkle, he would surrender to them and show enormous generosity after they left his studio, giving the title and publisher so often that bestseller status was almost guaranteed.

As time went on, the formidable brain came lazily into play, allowing him to address some issue of international politics or an aspect of human relations without giving the impression that he had studied it up the night before. He didn't need a stack of cards with questions on them: listening and reacting was all that was needed. His best asset, of course, was his warm welcome for himself.

Gerry Ryan enjoyed his own company almost as much as he enjoyed the company of friends. If he ever had a tremor of self-doubt, it went away within seconds. The fact that he wasn't emotionally needy made listeners feel easy with him.

The working assumption was that you'd like him. And if you didn't like him, well, that was your problem and you'd better get over it. He built and kept a huge audience over a lengthy period of time, shifting the emphasis of the programme to meet the changing needs of that audience. Listeners found him accessible and easy. His life wasn't a bit like that of the majority of his listeners, and yet they felt close to him.

He hadn't a beautiful voice. Nor was he handsome. Most of the time, he was simply enjoying himself in the company of listeners. But he could also do relentless interrogation, like the recent interview with Bill Cullen, where the latter was unemotionally questioned about why he left his first wife.


Ryan was also rare in his capacity to ask the impressionistic question: "Looking at you, I don't believe you mean that..." He was never fazed by the reactions of interviewees.

His confidence and his capacity to make a programme out of the square root of nothing meant that other broadcasters admired him. Chris Evans described Gerry Ryan as the best broadcaster he'd ever heard; the broadcaster he aspired to be.

Yesterday, Gerry Ryan, the man who loved the company of women, who worked at being a great friend to his pals, who made listeners, for more than 20 years, feel they knew him personally, died alone. There's an extra sadness to that...