Gerry's skill lay in his empathy and ability to instantly befriend callers

 

RADIO CAREER:THE RYAN line is open: you tell us, and we’ll tell them. It was the catchline of Gerry Ryan’s 2FM morning show, delivered with the broadcaster’s deep, instantly recognisable voice. And the calls came, every weekday for over 20 years: enough to fill three hours of broadcast time – about everything under the sun from bra sizes to budget cuts, troublesome teenagers to medical miseries.

Whatever was on his listeners’ minds was fair game and Gerry’s immense skill lay in his empathy and his career-long ability to instantly befriend his callers – “That’s shockin’ missus” or “I hear ya buddy” – and make it sound as if he understood what they were going through.

At times, tuning in and hearing the mostly female callers chatting to each other, giving advice or sharing horror stories, with Gerry chipping in his tuppence worth, was like eavesdropping on a giddy coffee morning.

The idea of a wealthy, successful celebrity – he long ago crossed the line from working radio jock into famous Irish personality – understanding the everyday difficulties of his callers shouldn’t wash, but he made it work.

He talked about his family: his late parents and his five children, and for years listeners felt they knew “Mrs Ryan” (his wife Morah, from whom he separated) because he mentioned her so regularly. She famously phoned in under a pseudonym to complain about how untidy her husband was and how he left his underpants on the floor. It was only when his production staff started laughing that he copped the identity of his caller.

Not that the mention of the word underpants was unusual. Gerry delighted in talking about what he’d call “rude stuff” and his salty language and not-infrequent sexual innuendo were the subject of complaints on the grounds of taste and decency to the Broadcast Complaints Commission.

Loyal listeners knew where he went on holidays and what he had for dinner, because he told them. And maybe it was this openness and intimacy that made women listeners love him – for advertisers The Gerry Ryan Showwas the first choice to get to the lucrative “housewife” market.

“Transition year is load of Horlicks,” he pronounced this week during a discussion on the benefits of fourth year. It was typical Gerry.

Irreverent, maybe tongue-in-cheek, but guaranteed to stir it up, to have teachers up in arms and parents and students phoning in.

The Gerry Ryan Showbegan in 1988 and is the longest-running show on 2FM. Commenting last November on listenership figures that showed a gain for the show of 3,000 listeners, RTÉ managing director of radio Clare Duignan said 2FM was “fighting back, and no better man to lead that assault than Gerry Ryan”.

He started the show every day with a review of the day’s papers, using a story as a springboard to rage about the state of the country or to congratulate a winning team, comment about a skilful photograph or have a laugh. He’d credit the person who wrote the story or the photographer – consistent with his reputation throughout the industry as being supportive and generous to other journalists and broadcasters.

Keeping the listeners tuned in for over 20 years to the same show – it’s a hard act to follow.