I watched Morning Ireland for the first time ever this morning, on its webcast (to find it check it out here). It was great to see David Hanly and great to hear that voice like a door on a rusted hinge. RTE peoople describe the above pic of Hanly and a gloriously moustachioed David Davin-Power as the ‘Starsky and Hutch’ pic.
I toiled in the Morning Ireland vineyard for over two years between the Spring of 1996 and May of 2008 when I moved back to the rediscover the glory of the printed word, with The Sunday Tribune.
It was a great place to gain experience of broadcast news and current affairs (my contacts book was bulging afterwards) though I never really felt as comfortable on air as I did in print.
Still they were great years. My own two highlights were a series that Niall Martin and I did on life inside the walls of Mountjoy Prison in 1996, and a series I did from Sarejevo and Bosnia for Christmas 1997.
Workwise, it was a hard hard station. As a reporter, you worked the four o’clock shift which meant you were working until midnight, but often well after that. The other shift started at 6am. It was unrelenting. The pressure of turning around the programme each night was constant. We had a team of four or five working to fill an hour and a half (as it was then).
My very first day on the job was traumatic to put it mildly. I was handed a Sony professional recorder and a microphone and sent out to Castleknock to interview the then Taoiseach John Bruton. He was canvassing with then Fine Gael candidate Tom Morrissey for the Dublin West by-election. My orders were to ask him nothing about the by-election but to quiz him on the Northern peace process which was going through a particularly sensitive phase at the time.
I located Bruton in a suburban housing estate. Initially, he was glad to do the interview and was all cheer and bonhomie. But when he realised that I was going to ask nothing about Morrissey or about Dublin West, his countenance darkened and he whispered through gritted teetch (and I took it he was no longer in a mood of bonhomie) that he didn’t want to answer questions about the North and why didn’t I ask about Tom Morrissey?
I was nervous to begin with. I had never used a professional tape recorder before and didn’t have a clue about adjusting the levels. And because I had come from slovenly newspapers I didn’t have the crispness of question delivery that broadcasters all acquire. And Bruton’s countenance was that of a man who has just realised his pocket has been picked. I stammer and stuttered out the questions, none of which made much sense.
It was terrible. The questons were terrible. The levels were wrong. Bruton was so annoyed that he spoke in a barely audible voice. You could hardly make out what he said. I winced listening back to my own shambolic questions.
Fine Gael contacted the Morning Ireland editor as I drove back to complain about him being ambused in that fashion by a nincompoop who asked nonsensical question. The editor on duty that night decided to drop the item, a decision he would have made anyway upon listening to the unbroadcastable quality of the tape.
The following morning, another programme editor Donal Byrne asked me how I had got on. I told him my sorry tale and how intimidated I had been by both the technology and the glowering presence of Bruton.
“It was like being thrown in the deep end,” I said.
Byrne replied quick as a shot. “You learn very quickly in this game that there is no such thing as a shallow end.”
I have never forgotten those words.
Happy Birthday, Morning Ireland.