herald

Tuesday 22 July 2014

They said Morning Ireland would not work but now it's become part of us

The oddity is how few people remember Morning Ireland starting up. It seems to have been there forever. In some ways, it seems older than 25.

Before Morning Ireland, this was another country. A place where you set your radio, rather than your mobile phone, to wake you up in the morning. Where you wanted some gentle chatter and middle-of-the-road music in those minutes before you committed yourself to the day.

You sure as hell didn't want to be battered by a set of headlines and an urgent procession of news stories and controversies.

Twenty-five years ago, you were getting up later in the morning, anyway.

That was before the boom years clogged our motorways as young couples headed to work from new dormitory towns, dropping their baby to the granny or the childminder on the way.

Few people believed, in the early days, that Morning Ireland would work. That much news, that early? But the collision of a unique set of circumstances made it work.

The hunger for news that would create several transatlantic 24 hour news TV stations was beginning.

National politics had moved from being a fairly boring ritual dance between the big parties and had become a chaotic circus of conspiracies, coalitions and new political parties.

People had a much greater sense of entitlement to information: 'No Comment' had died on the vine as an acceptable response to a journalist's questions.

Commuters on their way to work wanted to be informed for the 'water-cooler conversations' that would happen later in the day. (Even the notion of a 'water-cooler moment' was new.)

Aggressive

Into that context came Morning Ireland, with bearded, brilliant David Hanly doing a good imitation of an irritated bear.

Politicians, business people and other movers and shakers pitched up in the Morning Ireland studio to find themselves vigorously moved and shaken by Hanly, who cut through waffle like a hot knife through margarine, and -- as a former PR man -- could spot spin a kilometre away.

The programme was fast and crisp. Few interviews lasted longer than four minutes. Links were short and cursive. Questioning was aggressive.

The development of a strong brand around Morning Ireland was greatly helped by the fact that the team tended to stay intact.

Up to that point, news staff tended to be interchangeable -- you'd hear the same voices on every RTE news programme. David Hanly, however, didn't pop up anywhere else. Nor, later on, did Cathal McCoille or Aine Lawlor.

The programme also had little 'boutiques' attracting their own devoted listeners.

"It Says in the Papers" gave listeners a sense of what was in that morning's newspapers, and the huge contrast between the styles of its presenters kept interest alive.

One week you'd get Sean Egan, the next PP O'Reilly, wheezing and enthusing his way through his script, then following Tom Savage.

The programme rose to the coverage of historic events. Like the Herrema siege. Like the departure of former Fianna Fail minister Des O'Malley from that party.

The latter event was one of the few times Morning Ireland broke its own rules about the length of items -- they ran O'Malley's "I stand by the Republic" speech for more than 20 minutes. Much to the fury of Charles Haughey.

Morning Ireland was lucky to start at a time when Ireland had less media. We were not awash, back then, in radio stations.

It's a credit to the programme that when some of those stations came on air, so many of them started their morning programming with their own version of the flagship show.

But the most important credit is that the flagship programme didn't sink under the weight of competition.

That it's still the place listeners all around the country start, even if they later go to their local stations or plug into the shuffled music on their IPod. That it managed to go longer than an hour without losing impetus.

Triumph

Morning Ireland is still a key source for accurate news about war and peace, triumph and disaster.

Fair dues to it -- and to the people, front of mike and anonymously in the background -- who made it and constantly improved it.

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