herald

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Yes, he was the biggest star of radio, but his funeral SHOULD have been on Television

RTE never really knew how to handle Gerry Ryan.

The relationship between the national broadcaster and its most irreverent star was always difficult, with constant rows behind the scenes over pay, sick leave and the content of his programmes.

As Gay Byrne fondly recalled on last Friday's Late Late Show tribute: "He hated, above all else, the suits in this place and he loved getting on the wrong side of them."

It was somehow grimly inevitable then that RTE made such a mess of covering the biggest funeral that the country has seen for many years.

Despite the fact that they had almost a full week to prepare, the powers that be in Montrose chose not to show the event live on television.

Instead it was broadcast solely on 2FM, which didn't really work because of the church's terrible acoustics and frequent silences.

The ceremony was also streamed on the RTE website, but the live feed crashed so often that it ended up being virtually unwatchable.

Given the huge outpouring of national grief created by Ryan's death, it seems bizarre that his employers did not do everything they could to secure the biggest audience possible for his final gig.



Revered

Funerals have often been televised live before, most recently those of ex-Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former President Patrick Hillery. If leading politicians are considered worthy of such treatment, it's hard to see why broadcasters as revered as this one deserve any less.

The conventional wisdom about Gerry Ryan is that he was much more suited to radio than television. In this case, however, the exact opposite was true.

With a series of touching eulogies from the Ryan family, musical performances by U2 and Westlife and so many well known faces in attendance, his funeral should have been tailor-made for the small screen.

Perhaps the decision makers in Donnybrook felt that nothing could be allowed to disturb their regular Thursday morning schedules.

After all, when the BBC showed Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, some viewers rang to complain that it had delayed the start of the Antiques Roadshow.

In fact, at the relevant time yesterday RTE One and Two were showing Masterchef, a couple of soap opera repeats and various children's programmes -- all of which could surely have been postponed for a day without anyone getting too outraged.

RTE receives a massive financial subsidy every year from the licence-payers of this country.

As public service broadcasters, they have a duty to cover events of national importance that the public want to see. In this case, they failed that duty dismally -- and unlike some of their mistakes, this one can never be put right.

The thousands of people who queued up over the last few days to sign books of condolence for Gerry were saying goodbye to a friend they had never met.

Televising the funeral would have given thousands more a chance to do the same. Given how important his listeners were to him and the close relationship they enjoyed, everyone involved is entitled to feel that they got a raw deal.

In recent years RTE has been hit by a number of setbacks, many of them of their own making.

There have been rows over the bias of their political coverage, the salaries paid to their biggest stars and a financial crisis that threatens to plunge the station into bankruptcy.

Despite the recession, it seems highly likely that they will soon be lobbying the Government for an increase in the licence fee -- a move that yesterday's decision will do nothing to make any more palatable.

Gerry Ryan did a lot more for RTE than they ever did for him. What a pity that the suits he hated so much couldn't even manage to give him a decent send-off.

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