Radio: RTÉ's summer schedule disappoints again

Eamon Dunphy's interview with Gabriel Byrme exemplified the best of both men as interviewer and interviewee, a high point before the dreary summer schedule of RTÉ began in earnest.


I don't know Eamonn Dunphy, but I wouldn't mind being interviewed by him. He has the one quality and capacity that an interviewer needs, and is particularly essential, if the conversation falls within the realm of entertianment. That particular quality is trust and the capacity to engender it in his guests.

Politicians never trust interviewers and they are right. Only youth and naivety would allow them to do so. However, in the human interest genre, where guests are interviewed because of their humanness, – their life, loves, achievements, trials and triumphs – trust is the only quality necessary if the interview is to work and   is to succeed in engaging the listener.

Dunphy exudes trust. Pauper, prince, billionaire, religious leader, artist, altruist,  and dancer love him, and we love listening to the lively results of this mutual trust.

“If I were in Hollywood where would we hit the cocktails?” asked Dunphy.

“Well, we could start in the Sunset Marquee Hotel and move on to the Beverley Hills,” answered Gabriel Byrne.  

The Dublin-born actor with a relaxed yet very rooted sense of who and what he was, spoke in his still-present Dublin drawl to Eamonn Dunphy on his Saturday radio show.  

Dunphy has a unique way of letting his guests into the secrets of his own frailties and errors, thus allowing them a place to reveal more of their own. He uses his own well-known past and present to tap into his guests' personal truths.  They like him because he is a true transgressor and a survivor.

Where Eamonn Dunphy lives in his gravelled and forested face, Gabriel Byrne lives off his roman face and physicality. Byrne speaks with a long-throated, gravelled moan, which we can forgive only because he is honest, unassuming and entertaining. He lacks animation and is monotonal, but his memories are immediate, imaginatively told and well observed.  

As a young boy in a seminary in England he spoke with revealing simplicity of his experience with the Christian Brother who “crossed boundaries”. Dunphy created a poignant pause (not easily achieved on radio) to allow us catch the delicacy of the remembering and to appreciate Byrne's ability and courage not to become their casualty.  

Although resident in New York, Byrne has never really left his native Dublin, holding tight to the memory of “lurching around the floor of the TV Club to the strains of Granny's Intentions” and losing himself among the army-coated and long-haired students of UCD in the 1960's – among them the nasal and voluble Adrian Hardiman; the late John Feeney; the barrister and former justice minister Michael Mc Dowell; and not forgetting the reigning queen of UCD at that time, Ann Doyle.  “She's still around,” said Dunphy. But there was no response from Byrne; his reminisces had returned to Hollywood to when he was “still waiting for his ship to come in”.

“Hollywood is just a film factory. What you do with the fame is your own business,” he told Dunphy.

This talented veteran of film and theatre might, if he has the time, express a word of exemplary humility in the ear of some of our national broadcasters, especially those who confuse opinion with personality and insinuation with ideas. The actor hadn't changed at all despite international renown.  

It was a real interview. Byrne enjoyed it. Dunphy got the best out of him with the help of  producer, Sarah Binchy's editing skills – no doubt the interview continued to the frequented haunts of Lilly's Bordello, or even the Shelbourne bar.  

And so the summer schedule has arrived at the radio centre at RTÉ. It has arrived like the much painted west of Ireland summer skies: grey, shades of grey, cloudy, dull, misty, and more shades of grey.   

Myles Dungan takes over from Pat Kenny; Dave Fanning takes over from Ryan Tubridy. I cannot find out and it is not on the RTÉ web, or anywhere else, who will take over from Joe Duffy or Derek Mooney, but take over let me assure you, they will.

These are all excellent broadcasters, although the linguistic frog-and-kangaroo jumping, croaking, nestling and interrupting of Ryan Turbridy and his inability to intellectually distinguish between guests and ideas that so often warrant distinctive approaches, can be aggravating if not cringeworthy at times. (However, that is another day's work.) May I suggest in the meantime, during these tepid days, that RTÉ confines him to a book programme for some training.  
But back to the ‘summers, no sun' at the radio centre.

RTÉ steadfastly refuses to use these summer weeks to trial, test or give new voices a chance on the airwaves.  They just shift all those there on to the next musical chair. I say give them longer holidays. We'll pay – we are paying  – and give others a chance.

RTÉ also steadfastly refuses to give new kinds of programming a platform during these ‘wine outside the back door' days. Why? Is it because these new ideas and voices would demand more guidance, production, direction and research?  Those very objections offer the very best of reasons to do it. If nothing else it would begin to uproot, unfurl and upturn the consistency of those deckchairs as they get dragged around and around just to end up in different positions.  

Last week Myles Dungan opened his Pat Kenny replacement slot with an unstoppable, militarily-pronounced shopping list: The Pending Eucharist Congress, Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) and the new costly car emissions, Wrinkly Films, Blood Doctors, a Cellist, Body Shoppers etc. It was The Late Late Show on Radio.

A circus of performers all given the nine minutes to deliver under the strict guidance of our historical Myles who prides himself on personalised, evident breath breaks, over-vocal emphasis, and the stressing of words for effect and not for meaning.  The overwritten format of the introductions and the lame hint of humour are tired and lack any semblance of magic or anticipation. He operated a kind of over-talking that charges the guests with definitions, as though when in the company of Myles, one was not being interviewed but going to an interview.


Might I suggest that he take some lessons from Mr Dunphy, become less authoritative, all knowing and smart and more of a transgressor. Let us hear his unbridled sense before there is a slow descent into aural pollution.