Pat Kenny: ‘I don’t believe in retiring’
As Pat Kenny begins his new radio show on Newstalk, he talks about what 41 years at RTÉ have taught him and says even his mistakes are the stuff of water-cooler moments rather than embarrassments
“The following morning, Seán Gallagher came into the [radio] studio and never once mentioned the tweet. It wasn’t an issue for him the following morning. It wasn’t an issue at six o’clock on the Six One News. So the tweet only became an issue later on.”
Despite the controversy, he says, he was very disappointed that when the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) had a competition for the television moments of the year, it wasn’t on the list. “Which was stupid, because whatever you believe were the rights and wrongs of it, as a television moment it was certainly one of the most spectacular of the year.”
With other questions about the proportion of airtime allocated to each candidate and the way the questions from the audience were selected, what does he think of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s view that the debate “fell significantly short of the standard expected by the public of Irish broadcasters”?
He sighs and raises his eyes to heaven. “Who am I to criticise the BAI? Although on one occasion they found against me for having a right go at a guy who was selling astrology and training students to read the future. Anyway, that’s another story.
“Live TV is like an aircraft that’s scheduled to take off at a certain time, except in our case it’s never late. It’s 9.30 and off we go. So you have to ad lib, improvise, do whatever you can. That’s what happened that night. No conspiracy.
“Mission to Prey was different because that was an edited programme, there to be viewed and legally analysed and examined. With a live programme you can attempt to do the best you can but inevitably there will be cock-ups.”
Moving The Frontline to a Tuesday Prime Time slot was an unhappy experience. “It turned out that Tuesday was a day when stories broke. The Cabinet meets on Tuesday morning. Inevitably there’s going to be some leak or some announcement. You’d have planned a programme on the Irish language and maybe two other stories would have to go in front of that. So instead of having an hour to talk about the Irish language with people who’d come from Galway and Donegal and West Cork, you ended up with 25 minutes.
“So it just wasn’t sitting very comfortably. I fully anticipated, rightly or wrongly, that it would probably go back to Monday nights in the autumn. As it happens it’s not my problem now.”
Gay Byrne has written that he was “well aware of an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, if not downright unhappiness” in Kenny’s dealings with Montrose management in recent years. Is that accurate?
“No, I parted on very good terms with Noel Curran. Noel was producer with me on Kenny Live and initially on the Late Late Show. I haven’t ruled out doing television with RTÉ. I will do some television if someone wants me. People have said to me; you’ll be working with TV3. Not necessarily. It could be RTÉ. They spent a lot of time and energy building my television brand.”
He won’t be returning to current affairs television though. “The reason I didn’t want to do what I was doing was it was full circle, back to Prime Time. Two nights a week, in addition to the radio programme. I thought that was too much of a ball and chain.
“The Frontline was so adrenalin-producing for me. It had the best of the Late Late Show debates and the best of current affairs. Whereas doing Prime Time with no audience in an empty studio block with no other shows being made at night . . . it was like visiting the Marie Celeste sometimes. But that’s what they wanted and it was issues like that which were at the nub of things.”
Not money? “Not an issue. I won’t go into all our correspondence with RTÉ because it’s confidential and it wouldn’t be fair, but that was not the crunch issue at all.”
He texted his congratulations to Seán O’Rourke when the news came through that they’d be going head-to-head in the mornings. “Seán is going from a very high-rated show to the top mid-morning show. I was surprised he did that. But he sees it as a chance to spread his wings a bit and I wish him well. Obviously I’ll be trying to steal as much of his audience as I possibly can.”
And RTÉ in turn will be training their firepower on him. “Absolutely, that’s the job of those producers. And the job for Newstalk will be to get people who’ve never experienced Newstalk, who don’t listen to George, or to John and Chris in the mornings, to suck it and see.
“That kitchen radio up on the shelf that no one ever touches. They switch it on at the mains every morning and it’s tuned to RTÉ Radio 1. That’s the big challenge; to try to persuade people to climb up on the kitchen chair and change it.
“It’s very exciting. People ask me: what’s it going to be like working with new people? I’ve had a certain amount of stability with my radio team over the last decade or so but people come and go. It’s the same on television, on Frontline, Prime Time, the Late Late.
“You’re constantly working with new people and finding out their talents and abilities. So this is more of the same.”