Serving up a meagre Christmas feast


RadioReview: If you didn't have to hear the weather forecast, the news or the sports results, there weren't too many reasons to turn on the radio. It was a week of re-heats and fillers - a bit like the audio version of those grimly dutiful magazine articles promising 20 exciting things to do with left-over turkey.

Remembering how dismal the week after Christmas was for radio last year, I tried to get out of it by instead offering a round-up of the best and worst of radio in 2005, but no dice. I was promptly redirected back to the daily grind. And what a grind. Even Ray D'Arcy on Today FM took the week off - the mass exodus of RTÉ's top earners is the norm at the first whiff of a school holiday, but for once D'Arcy was replaced by a DJ called Phil. Meanwhile, over on 2fm, Gerry Ryan had another cheesy-sounding disc-spinner in playing a "Golden Hour" of classic hits - which is just about as lazy as it gets.

RTÉ Radio 1 riffled its subs bench and called up the likes of Brendan Balfe and Joe Jackson to pass the time - as they're roped in every holiday period, they were perfectly adept at it. Jackson's two-part tribute to Liam Clancy (Under the Influence, RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday, Wednesday), recorded on his 70th birthday, was worth a listen.

Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ Radio 1) offered a compilation of highlights from his 2005 programmes. They must have run out of best bits (the wonder is that they managed to cobble together even an hour's worth of good stuff) because by Thursday Tubridy was back in the studio for a live programme.

He invited three people in to play Trivial Pursuit - and if you missed it because you were caught out walking in the sleety snowstorm that was belting down that morning and couldn't get to the radio, be thankful because you got the better deal.

There were more successful archive programmes, notably John Bowman's return to radio. He'll be back next week with his early morning show, Bowman on Saturday, and as a taster he put together a daily half hour of what he said were just some of his favourite moments from the archives (RTÉ Radio 1, Monday-Friday). He played a report from New Year's Eve 1961 as the nation was excitedly awaiting the launch of Radio Telefís Éireann later that evening. Kathleen Watkins was the first voice heard on the new TV station.

For weeks before the broadcast people had been crowding around the windows of shops selling televisions just to see the test-card.

President Eamon de Valera wasn't so convinced. "I must admit that when I think of TV and radio and their immense power, I feel afraid," he said.

This being panto season Bowman also included excerpts from interviews with Maureen Potter and Jimmy O'Dea from the 1950s. Every year O'Dea reserved a box in the theatre for his mother and her only response was "I don't know what they're laughing at, you're not in the least bit funny." He recalled that when he told his father he'd like to be an actor, his dad's response was "Son, I rather see you in a coffin" - a reaction that changed over the years as O'Dea became successful.

Teresa Murphy knows all too well the reality of putting a son in a coffin. In an affecting documentary (Tsunami: One Year On, RTÉ Radio 1, Monday) the Waterford woman spoke about the death of her eldest son Michael - "he was the man of the house" - in the tsunami a year ago.

He was only 23 when he died and it was an agonising five months before his body was found and identified - "an awful long time without a body," said his mother. His brother Paul told of heading over to Phuket and then to the site of the tsunami in the hope of finding Michael.

In his quiet, measured voice he vividly described doing the rounds of the temporary morgues giving DNA samples, wandering the devastated beaches, retching from the smell, stepping over dead bodies or looking closely at them if they resembled Michael. "Looking, looking, looking, I could have stayed here for months doing the same thing."

He came home after only five days away and his mother didn't even recognise him he looked so gaunt and changed. When a body was eventually found, a Garda expert came out to the Murphy house in Blackwater to take fingerprints from Michael's books.

Throughout the family's ordeal, the State services, particularly the local gardaí and the diplomatic services, emerged as being a tremendous support. The media, however, was not viewed by the family in the same light.

"The media was kind of wallowing in it [ the tsunami," said Paul, "it was just a story for them, a scoop."