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I’m not the only one enjoying Marty Whelan’s renaissance phase, brutal dad jokes and all

Emer McLysaght: The veteran broadcaster is carving out a viable alternative to wall-to-wall news coverage or the berserk breakfast show model

In 2014, actor Mathew McConaughey returned to the A-lister scene with a bang, striding out from a wasteland of dubious acting and terrible romcoms. With acclaimed appearances in Magic Mike and The Wolf of Wall Street, he had just secured his first Oscar nomination for Dallas Buyers Club. With one cleverly coined phrase the “McConaissance” reached its zenith, and McConaughey became a poster boy – poster man, really – for anyone who was rebirthed into acclaim and high regard.

Ireland has its own Matthew McConaughey, and his name is Marty Whelan. He jumped ship from RTÉ for the doomed Century Radio in the late ‘80s and didn’t return to the national broadcaster’s radio waves until the mid 2000s. Where McConaughey has bronzed abs of steel, Whelan has a Selleckesque moustache with a thatch on top to rival any silver fox. McConaughey’s calling card is his Texas drawl, while Whelan’s is his ability to deliver even the most terribly brilliant dad joke.

McConaughey’s legacy is his memorable characters, while Whelan’s legacy is wide-ranging – from Head 2 Toe and Winning Streak to his always enjoyable Eurovision commentary for RTÉ. Marty, like Matthew, has been in the business for decades, but his true renaissance began when he – and we – found his true north at the height of the pandemic: Marty in the Morning on LyricFM.

It’s no mean feat to carve out a viable alternative to standard morning radio formats – either wall-to-wall news coverage or the berserk breakfast show model. Marty Whelan on Lyric gets it just right with a diverse mix of music and an ability to fill the airtime in between with easy chat.


Okay, so Lyric purists might not agree one hundred per cent with his playlist, but radio stations can’t run on air (or the licence fee, clearly) so you’re going to have to take a little Springsteen with the baroque, chamber and other classical pillars. However low or high your brow sits, you can’t argue with the value in offering diversity. Marty plays enough classical for me to wheel out my A in Junior Cert music and identify a spot of fortissimo in the Brahms while I’m having my granola, and sure isn’t that better than nothing? And if you have a problem with him playing “Cool Philter” and “Eamon Macaroni” (Phil Coulter and Ennio Morricone) then you’re just a monster.

In 2019, when the future of Lyric FM looked uncertain, thousands signed a petition to keep the station on the air and pledged to become regular listeners, with shows such as Marty in the Morning and Aédin Gormley’s Movies and Musicals providing obvious touchstones. At the height of the pandemic the news cycle was like a car crash. Numbers, schools and rules drove our anxiety through the roof and drove many into Marty’s arms and under the comforting tickle of his moustache.

Marty’s nowhere near slipping into dotage though, and his tongue has always been firmly placed in his cheek

I have a friend who’s taken to Marty in the Morning so deeply that she’s bought tickets to Marty in the Evening at the National Concert Hall with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. She’s also been agitating for him to take the Late Late hosting slot, and regularly texting his best weapons-grade dad jokes into the group chat. I might stage an intervention before she starts making collages and collecting silvery hairs for a creepy doll effigy.

Marty’s morning radio show is supplemented with his active Twitter feed. He comments on what’s in the papers – more often the gentler stories than the grim headlines, and posts endearing photos of whatever he’s browsing on his computer screen, the way only a dad can. Marty’s nowhere near slipping into dotage though, and his tongue has always been firmly placed in his cheek. A few years ago, when he was passed over for the Dancing with the Stars hosting gig, he quipped “If I had a cat, I would have kicked it, but I have no cat”. When questioned about that RTÉ Guide photo of him sitting on the scooter with a curious trouser arrangement (just google Marty Whelan + scooter. It’s safe for work, just about), he referred to the Guide being the official “organ” of the State broadcaster and to his physique needing no airbrushing, but doing wonders for the sale of cotton suits.

McConaughey might have his “all right, all right, all right” catchphrase, but Marty has the gift of the gab and the ease of a comeback kid who’s found his groove and gets away with calling Andrea Bocelli “Andrew Brocolli”. The Whelaissance is here.