RADIO: Dead air days

AA friend remembers hearing Gerry Ryan interview Adi Roche during her failed presidential campaign in 1997, during which Roche was asked to recount her first kiss for the listeners of his radio show. Not a polished media performer, she launched into an unconvincing, clichéd tale about her first date which petered out embarrassingly towards the end.

The response from Ryan? Silence.

He let it grow, and as it did, the paucity of Roche's story was amplified further, until it became almost unbearable. "Right," said Ryan, after what seemed like aeons.

Roche was crushed.

There are few broadcasters in Ireland who use dead air as skillfully as Gerry Ryan (The Gerry Ryan Show, 2fm, Monday to Friday, 9am-12pm). Station executives and most radio presenters fear silence like little else, but Ryan has a natural understanding of its workings and the confidence to use its power.

"I usually enjoy listening to your programme," said caller Des on Friday 11 November. "But twice this week you have gone down very low in my estimation." His first complaint concerned Ryan's view on what kind of reception the All-Blacks should receive in Dublin. The second was about how Ryan had treated a guest earlier in the week, but it involved – unsurprisingly for the Gerry Ryan Show – a man having a cigarette extinguished on his penis. Caller Des was reticent about going into the sordid details and made a total mess of his gripe.

Ryan let his assailant stew in another silence, but this one was bristling with hostility.

"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," said Ryan eventually, after a couple of tense heartbeats. Again, a sucker punch.

It was dead air of a different variety over on RTÉ 1 with Ryan Tubridy (The Tubridy Show, Monday to Friday, 9am – 10am). Tubridy's show is less of a disaster in its newer, shortened format, but the segment at the beginning, where Tubridy highlights quirky tidbits from the morning papers, falls flat. Tubridy's jabbering works very well if he's got a studio audience to banter with, as happens sometimes on the show, but when he's talking to himself about boring, inconsequential news stories, he might as well be speaking into a brown paper bag. Gerry Ryan does exactly the same thing at exactly the same time (interestingly, Tubridy's producer worked for many years on The Gerry Ryan Show) but has the poise to carry it off. Tubridy could do well with a less-is-more approach.

On-air silence and Gerry Ryan's 2fm colleague Dave Fanning are not good friends. Sounding like a nervous man who's trying to sell you broadband, Fanning's manic style and 200-words-per-minute delivery have made him famous. He was also famous, about a century ago, for being at the cutting edge of youth culture and popular music. Alas, no more. Like George Formby and Hotpress magazine, Fanning is no longer as relevant to youth culture as he once was, due in part to his failure to embrace the electronic music explosion.

He's still a good interviewer though, particularly when dealing with bands who formed in the mists of time (The Dave Fanning Show, 2fm, Monday to Friday, 6pm - 7.30pm). He spoke last week to Stephen Wooley, the director of Stoned, a new film about Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Jones was better looking than the rest of his band, but had as much musical talent as Shane Lynch from Boyzone. Thus, Jagger and Richards fired him, and he died a few weeks later in mysterious circumstances in his own swimming pool. The consequence of Brian Jones' ultimate rock'n'roll life and death is that mountains of bullshit have been written about him, but Fanning does not buy into this. He probed director Stephen Wooley during the interview, dismantling the myths that surrounded Jones and getting right to the core of who he was. Fanning may be old and a bit past it, but younger rock presenters can still learn from him.