The premier radio station, from McGurk to excellence

Shortly after 10pm on the evening of Thursday, 22 May, Tom McGurk, asked his interviewee, the aged journalist, Mary Kenny, right at the beginning of the one hour programme, the following question: “Do you remember your first memory?”


If Mary Kenny had had any sense she would have upped and left the studio there and then, for the question was so thick, so phoney, so suffused with gobshitery and sheer twaddle that it signalled the rest of the interview was going to be of the same genre. The next few minutes of the interview were indeed of the same genre and so excruciating that I had to switch to Lyric FM and therefore may be quite wrong about the programme lasting an hour.

Odd that RTE should indulge McGurk, when so much of its programming is so good.

Morning Ireland can be irritating and self-important and Áine Lawlor often has a mumsy tone to her, which is very irritating – Cathal MacCiolla has a mumsy tone to him too at times, which is even more irritating (“for God's sake drive carefully on the roads” as though it was his role to advise on anything) – and the reference to each other by their first names, as though they were major celebrities. But it sets the agenda and often it is unmissable.  

Ryan Tubridy used to be a blather-box and just that. He has emerged more recently as a little more than a blather-box, although certainly that too. There can be a depth to him at times, but the compulsive natter-natter-natter still can be hard to take. One way or another, the programme has got to be less irritating, even interesting at times.

He is followed by the best radio broadcaster around, Pat Kenny, the Lord of Gorse Hill. Pat threatened to vanish up his own anus a few years ago, with his compulsive self regarding answering of his own compulsively long and self-regarding questions. But he has stopped and now he is just a fine, informed, intelligent, fair, balanced radio broadcaster. His programme is the best on the radio schedule across all stations, brilliantly produced, interesting, pacey, intelligent.

Ronan Collins is better than he seems, better than a “filler” between Kenny and the News At One but there is a “filler” vibe to that 12-1pm show that does him no justice.

Sean O'Rourke is superb on the News At One, incisive, authoritative; Joe Duffy, often alarmingly populist but often touching national nerves.

Drivetime with Mary Wilson is the least assured in the daytime schedule. The programme is a mess, made all the worse by Des Cahill being loaded into it from 6.30pm. Mary is not the assured court reporter she once was but she is not the reason for the mess. It is the format, the frenzy of the programme, the abbreviated items, and sometimes the uncertain handling. Whoever is producing the Pat Kenny programme should be put in there to clean it up and make it interesting.

Marian Finucane was “demoted” a few years ago from the prime morning slot, now occupied by young Tubridy, to the Saturday and Sunday morning schedules, and the programmes for a long time were pointless talk-fests. But they have settled down and she has emerged as the superb broadcaster she was of old, again and again doing considered, intelligent, relaxed but at times, sharp interviews with a variety of interviewees, the interview with Giovanni Trapattoni being a recent example.

But of course the interview of the year surely, if not so far of the millennium, was that with Nuala O'Faolain, four weeks before her death. Marian and she were close friends but the interview avoided the pitfalls of such friendship especially at a moment of such anguish and poignancy. No mawkishness, none of the ham-pauses at emotional moments, awaiting tears – a knack Joe Duffy, shamefully, has perfected. No emotion at all from the interviewer, who, because of the closeness, must have been distraught herself. Superb.