Ray D’Arcy: Coming to an RTÉ screen near you

Move to ‘come home’ to the public broadcaster is more about television than Radio 1 slot

Ray D’Arcy: cemented an affable everyman persona on Today FM.  Photograph: Frank Miller

Ray D’Arcy: cemented an affable everyman persona on Today FM. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Has any other Irish broadcaster managed their career as well as Ray D’Arcy? The man who was foil to Zig and Zag in his 20s and cemented an affable everyman persona on Today FM from his mid-30s is now 50, a touch grumpier, and ready to return to RTÉ under a deal in which he had the power to negotiate terms.

He brings with him 14 years of experience establishing genuine rapport with listeners on a three-hour mid-morning show in which empathy and respect was awarded to coping-class heroes and anger was reserved for power elites, notably the Catholic Church.

D’Arcy joins Radio 1 – a station that broadcasts the Angelus gongs twice daily – in the 3pm to 4.30pm slot about to be vacated by Derek Mooney. Appointed RTÉ “wildlife executive”, Mooney had 198,000 listeners at the last count, having lost 12 per cent of his audience over a 12- month period in tandem with a wider Radio 1 slump. He was the easiest to move.

D’Arcy’s 9am-noon Today FM show, meanwhile, has 221,000 listeners, which is down 4 per cent year on year, though the softness in his ratings of late is hardly evidence that the D’Arcy brand is fractured. That two of his team, Mairéad Farrell and Jenny Kelly, his wife, left his show this year is in retrospect a pointer to his thinking, or it may simply be the case that RTÉ was only now ready to wave a chequebook in his face.

He will bump into one former private sector colleague in the corridors of Montrose in the shape of Willie O’Reilly, who was chief executive of Today FM when it hired D’Arcy and is now group commercial director of RTÉ.

Although fewer people are listening to the radio in the afternoon, it shouldn’t be hard for D’Arcy to pull in a comfortable audience, even if the generation that remembers him from The Den is – still – younger than Radio 1’s typical demographic. But “carrying the torch” from Liveline to Drivetime, as RTÉ put it, feels like an interim project: this move is about television, not radio.

Before he took a step back from the screen in 2010, D’Arcy had kept in touch with RTÉ viewers, presenting anachronistic frockfest The Rose of Tralee for five years and Sunday evening talent contest format You’re a Star. New RTÉ One controller Adrian Lynch will now be looking to use D’Arcy’s charms to shore up viewing figures on the main channel at a time when competition from TV3 and UTV Ireland in key slots is stepping up.

It’s too bad for both up-and-coming presenters and the familiar stalwarts of RTÉ light entertainment, but D’Arcy may well be the first choice of commissioning executives for a whole raft of formats, from thoughtful factual programmes to what should be a cheery hunt for Ireland’s Eurovision entry to experiments in prime-time weekend game shows. D’Arcy will also inevitably be tagged the “next Late Late Show host”.

The saying that “all publicity is good publicity” carries the addendum “except in the case of public service broadcasters in receipt of a licence fee”. RTÉ controversies tend to be particularly bad-tempered ones. So what of D’Arcy’s ability to generate a storm? The religious placard- carriers who go through phases of picketing Montrose will be aware D’Arcy once opined on air that “the Catholic Church has in many ways f***ed up this country” and that he apologised only for the bad language, not for the sentiment. What’s more, he is – gasp! – an atheist.

He’s also a professional who will understand that the culture at RTÉ is, rightly or wrongly, more risk-averse than that at Communicorp. The conservative organisations that monitor the airwaves with the broadcasting regulator’s complaints form open in a browser tab may yet be disappointed.

Deep in the clogged intestines of the media industry, words such as “connection” and “community” are thrown about too readily. They have become an interview staple, or a box on a list to be ticked. But every now and again there is a moment when the connection and the community feels genuine and worthwhile.

One such moment for The Ray D’Arcy Show came in 2005 on the publication of Us, a charity book that married audience participation with a PR-friendly bid to raise funds for a good cause. Listeners were asked to send in photographs taken on a sunny October 1st to form a one-day, multi-snapshot portrait of life in Ireland. Back then, such user-generated content wheezes seemed fresh, and D’Arcy helped make the project credible.

At RTÉ, where the jargon is laced with terms such as “shared experiences” and “heartland audiences”, the new signing won’t have to fake much of his enthusiasm – unless it dares to misuse him.

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