RTÉ’s historic changing of the guard is going off without a hitch. Well, almost

As Ronan Collins prepares for his final regular weekday show on Radio 1, Montrose management has been solving the succession question

In the end, the changing of the guard is a smooth affair, resulting in a minimal reshuffling of the delicately balanced pack rather than an acrimonious wider upheaval. So, in the same week that sees the historic switcheroo of taoisigh, the veteran DJ Ronan Collins prepares to finish up his long-running midday show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). But rather than have other station presenters jockey for position to fill the coveted slot, Montrose management is bringing in Louise Duffy to take over in January. As in the Dáil, what could have been an eventful pre-Christmas week in radio politics goes off without a hitch.

Well, almost. As he ends Monday’s show, Collins tells listeners to stand by for News at One, only for nothing to happen. “I pushed the wrong button along the way and made a mess of it,” he ruefully admits. Otherwise, however, he doesn’t do much wrong, sticking to the formula that has won him a loyal following over more than three decades on Radio 1: reading listeners’ requests and noting musicians’ birthdays while playing music that is often as deeply unfashionable as it is clearly dear to his audience.

“Where are you going to hear Jim Reeves on the radio now?” he asks after playing a request on Monday, his rhetorical question acting as an inadvertent litmus test. If the prospect of never hearing another song by the late country crooner is a reason for celebration, you’re probably not part of Collins’s core constituency. But as his ratings have consistently attested, there is a substantial chunk of the population who like nothing else but to hear overlooked singing stars of yesteryear such as Perry Como and Johnny Mathis, as well as home-grown fixtures from the host’s days as a drummer on the showband circuit. And so it continues for his final week, with a smattering of festive songs thrown in for good measure.

Ronan Collins’s retirement – from his daily show, at any rate – marks if not quite the end of an era then at least the beginning of an end

In fairness, there are some concessions to the fiftysomething whippersnappers among us, as Collins bookends Tuesday’s show with numbers from The Specials, whose frontman, Terry Hall, died the day before, while a track from the choogling blue-collar rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival showcases his ability to throw the odd stimulating nostalgic curveball. But one suspects MOR is more when it comes to Collins’s key demographic, which he has cannily cultivated with his distinctive playlists, airing once-popular songs that otherwise tend to be absent from national radio.


“In all my years they never told me what to play,” he comments about his Radio 1 bosses, before wryly noting: “They complained about some of it.”

It’s a reminder of the occasionally tart edge he could bring to his reliable mix of classic oldies, old-school patter and brisk professionalism. As Collins embarks on his own handover of power, it’ll be interesting to see how his fan base respond to the new regime.

Either way, Collins’s retirement – from his daily show, at any rate – marks if not quite the end of an era then at least the beginning of an end. As one of the first crop of presenters recruited by the fledging 2FM, more than 40 years ago, he’s part of a group that has provided some of the most durable fixtures in Irish radio. Be it the original intake from the station’s initial launch – Collins, Marty Whelan on Lyric, and Dave Fanning on 2FM itself – or presenters who arrived later in the 1980s, such as Ian Dempsey on Today FM, 2FM alumni are more prevalent on our airwaves than, say, Radio 1 peers of the same vintage.

Chief among the latter group is Pat Kenny (Newstalk, weekdays), who of course also hosted music shows such as The Outside Track on 2FM in the 1980s but whose dedication to talk radio appears as undimmed as ever. For all that, his show’s format comes across as less news-driven than other daytime magazine programmes, to the point of barely mentioning the almost disappointingly seamless rotation between Micheál Martin’s premiership and Leo Varadkar’s. (“Paschal [Donohoe] and Michael [McGrath] did a swap, Simon [Harris] made way for Micheál, and Micheál made way for Leo,” as Mary Wilson puts it on RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland, making the transition sound like a particularly joyless swingers party.)

Listeners should be grateful that Pat Kenny doesn’t sugarcoat matters, even at this time of year

Instead, Kenny mixes engaging end-of-year overviews on topics from the UK’s “annus horribilis” to Putin’s “war crimes” in Ukraine with analytical pieces on more specialised matters, discussing whether pregnant women should receive private care in public hospitals or if a 60 per cent tax rate would be necessary to fund a universal basic income. Such items potentially feed into the recurring Newstalk narrative of the endless demands on a hard-pressed middle Ireland, but Kenny handles the issues with nuance and balance.

Given the season, Kenny also has many Christmas-related stories, though it would be hard to describe many of them as festive in content. He has a timely conversation with the psychotherapist Stephanie Regan about the challenges of managing grief over the holiday period, when jollity can seem practically mandated even for those dealing with loss or remembering loved ones. In a similarly downcast vein, the presenter also hears Sarah Benson of Women’s Aid outline how many women can come under increased economic abuse from their husbands over Christmas, a distressing tactic used by controlling spouses.

Benson tells her host about the way abusive husbands can “weaponise” things that women are proud of, such as cooking or parenting, to tear down their self-esteem. Kenny sounds his distress at what he’s hearing – “It’s terrible to think there will be women walking on eggshells over Christmas” – but, more importantly, he lets his guest outline the nature and extent of this grim issue.

It’s hard to be cheerful after that, but listeners should be grateful that Kenny doesn’t sugarcoat matters, even at this time of year. Here’s hoping he doesn’t plan to depart the air any time soon.