It's goodbye from me . . . and hello again


RADIO REVIEW:THERE WERE two significant departures from the airwaves this week and persistent talk of another from public life. Although he told newspapers his retirement from RTÉ was involuntary, Brendan Balfe bowed out last week with quiet words when he broadcast the last instalment of The Irish Voice(RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday). He has spent 46 years at the state broadcaster. His programme was a nostalgic and epic journey through music and sound clips from the past century. “And from this Irish voice, thank you for listening, thank you for your kind words, and goodbye,” Balfe said at the close. And that was that.

“Lots of people feel like they’d like to work a bit longer, and I advocate that. I advocate for older people to remain active,” 80-year-old Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh – or “Voice of the Gaelic Games” – told Wednesday’s Tom Dunne(Newstalk 106-108, weekdays). He is a happier retiree. He will speak at the Third Age’s Foundation lunch on October 1st. Dunne echoed a national sentiment: “Sundays on Irish beaches will never be the same again.”

Balfe has vowed to return to the airwaves. There is a huge market for male radio broadcasters of a certain age, more than for their female counterparts. The veteran broadcaster Arthur Murphy has been a cult hit with his weekly E-mail Bag on The Ray D’Arcy Show(Today FM, weekdays), where the team reads out queries about television shows for him to answer. Gay Byrne returned with a nice niche music show, Sunday with Gay Byrne(Lyric FM). And the hyper-macho Tom McGurk is giving it socks with McGurk on 4(4FM, weekdays).

If careers of politicians end in failure, those of male radio presenters go on and on. George Hook is one of the few Newstalk start-up presenters to last the pace, on The Right Hook(Newstalk 106-108). On The Breakfast Show(Newstalk, weekdays) Ivan Yates is following Hook’s footsteps, giving plenty of opinion whether we like it or not. Damien Kiberd is back on Newstalk at lunchtimes, though one wonders how long it will take for Yates to eye that prime slot.

Eamon Dunphy has flitted from The Last Wordon Today FM and The Breakfast Showon Newstalk to Conversations With . . .on Radio 1. On The Dunphy Show(Newstalk, Sundays) Minister of State Conor Lenihan defended the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, against some media reports,as RTÉ continued to follow the fallout from Cowen’s Morning Irelandinterview with relish.

He did acknowledge that “people are angry and annoyed over this story”. But, like many of Cowen’s colleagues, he didn’t specify exactly why people were angry. What most seem to have missed is that it wasn’t just that interview. It was the straw that broke the public’s back.

“We know there is a serious challenge to our party and to the authority and respect with which people hold the office of Taoiseach,” Lenihan said. “It’s up to the Taoiseach to give strong, clear leadership to signal that, you know, what’s appeared in the newspapers now is at an end and won’t recur and happen again.” (Again, what exactly won’t happen again? Cowen didn’t sleep it out. He didn’t choke on a pretzel. I wish Cowen’s colleagues would just spit it out.)

Morning Ireland(Radio 1, weekdays) picked up Lenihan’s quotes. The media likes to paint Conor as the free spirit and Brian as more considered, one as a sort of good cop, the other as a sort of bad cop, but if you listen to the entire programme the former was just as measured as the latter.

By Monday Mary O’Rourke of Fianna Fáil had dropped her line that Cowen’s interview last week was “forceful”. She said a “mantle of better communication” was needed: “Most people believe a heave is unwarranted, and is not a natural way of dealing with a very good person, an intelligent, bright man like Brian Cowen who works really hard, and they don’t want to see that happening, like, in that way. Neither do they want to lose their seats, and that’s the common fear that’s gripping many people.”

I hope she never retires.

As Áine Lawlor was wrapping up, O’Rourke had a bee in her proverbial bonnet about Cowen’s interview with Cathal MacCoille, something raised in this column last week. “Do you know what I wondered, Áine, Cathal was the interviewer in that. We never heard from Cathal . . . Lots of other press people went on to the radio and said what they thought, but will he tell us?”

Lawlor replied with a non sequitur: “We’d be delighted to have the Taoiseach on the programme, Mary.”

Hmm . . . Sometimes closure, like charity, starts at home.