Monday 21 January 2019

Ian on those 2fm rumours, Gerry Ryan and why rival Oliver Callan 'isn't up to it'

Aoife Finneran meets the Today FM stalwart

WE'RE in a glass-fronted meeting room in Today FM and Ian Dempsey is in full flow. For the last 20 minutes he's been on an entertaining roll through the vagaries of breakfast radio, the juggernaut that is Gift Grub and his memories of the late Gerry Ryan.

Then I ask if he'd consider returning to his former stomping ground at 2fm and Ian hits a conversational pothole.

He chooses his words before venturing: "I, I, I'm very happy where I am." On surer ground, he adds: "I suppose at this stage and this age, if I was going to move anywhere I'd be moving with a different approach to it, as in I might do some on-air stuff but I'd like to do stuff behind the scenes, I might like to be a bit more in control of the situation."

So that's not a "no"? He clarifies: "I'm contracted to Today FM but there's a great big commercial open market out there." The ensuing laughter suggests he'd prefer if I moved swiftly on to another topic.

Outside the window, the offices of Today FM are a hive of activity. Staff members cradle station-branded coffee mugs, Mario Rosenstock, he of the many voices, saunters past, and station boss Willie O'Reilly glides through the building which hums with a positive atmosphere.


It looks like a dream work environment, so it's no surprise that Ian Dempsey hasn't budged since moving from 2fm 13 years ago.

His departure from the State broadcaster created a major scheduling headache for 2fm, and after a merry-go-round of trial runs with Ryan Tubridy, Rick and Ruth, Marty Whelan, Colm and Jim Jim and now the irrepressible Hector, the headache has morphed into a migraine.

To Dempsey's credit, he manages not to sound smug about 2fm's inability to match him. Yet he acknowledges that the pressure is always present, particularly with the last yearly JNLR figures recording a significant decline in listeners.

Ryan Tubridy's stint on 2fm breakfast was "the most threatening" rival to Today FM, and next week's quarterly JNLR figures will reveal whether Hector has what it takes to close the gap on Ian's show.

In the meantime, Ian is busily harnessing the collective goodwill of listeners to support the station's Shave Or Dye campaign.

Last year, the station raised more than €800,000 for charity after the presenters shaved their locks or submitted to colourful hair dye in the name of the Irish Cancer Society.

Not even a bout of pneumonia stopped Ian from a date with the blade, and this time he's putting his head on the line again, explaining: "I think this time it'll go more into the local communities and people, maybe teachers and colleges, will get a bit more involved in the whole thing.

"They know what the concept is now so we could do better, it would be great to hit a million," he adds.

The campaign won't be short of celebrity endorsements, given the number of famous names, or parodies of same, who appear on the show's daily Gift Grub sketch.

What would happen if the renowned mimic took his comedy elsewhere?

For a start, "it would mean that we'd have to do a major rethink," says Ian. "In my radio career I've had a lot of things that have had a lot of impact, like the Zig and Zag thing. They're all really popular but if they're not there any more you have to try something else and see what works."

Gift Grub has also survived the competition from former contributor Oliver Callan, who left the station in a blaze of controversy in 2006 and brought his own brand of mimicry to 2fm with Nob Nation.

Callan has since enjoyed stellar success, but Ian insists he was never fearful of the competition, other than worrying that "there would be confusion as to which is which and that some people might listen to Oliver Callan's stuff and say 'oh, Gift Grub wasn't great today'."

And his attitude towards Nob Nation is clear as he remarks: "To be honest with you, any ones that I've heard, I don't think they're up to it. He's a very good mimic, but I don't think he has the writing ability and the ideas ability."

Nor does he try to conceal his disquiet at the manner of Callan's departure. "He left Today FM, he didn't say goodbye. We were working together. I haven't spoken to him since, he just literally left."


Less frosty is his relationship with Ryan Tubridy, despite reports last year that Ian delivered a "tongue-lashing" to the younger presenter via a Hot Press interview.

"I got a phone call from Ryan afterwards and I met Ryan since on numerous occasions," he explains. "He read the full Hot Press interview so he knows exactly what I was talking about.

"And from a radio point of view, the point that I was making was that he was coming from, in the same way as if I had Morning Ireland on before me and I had Pat Kenny on after me, that's a very comfortable place to be sitting in between. All I was saying was that now he doesn't have that strength sitting on either side."

The rumour mill also named Ian as a potential candidate for the 2fm slot vacated by the late Gerry Ryan.

But the truth is far less interesting, as Ian clarifies: "I was never approached and it was never on the cards."

I venture a question about the revelations which emerged at Gerry's inquest and he beats me to it.

"The cocaine, is it?" he drawls, with impish emphasis. He doesn't eulogise the iconic broadcaster, nor does he castigate him. Refreshingly, he is matter-of-fact as he remarks: "All kinds of stories came out, but at the end of the day the only thing that was proven was that there was a trace of cocaine in his body when he died.


"Then you get all these mad kind of stories coming out saying that it cost this amount a week and we don't know that for a fact and it's very hard for a dead man to defend himself."

He wasn't surprised at the cocaine revelations, explaining: "It's not that I was aware of anything but Gerry was a party animal to a certain degree so you wouldn't be too surprised about it."

Not being part of "that whole scene", Ian admits he's never even been offered drugs. "There must be something odd about me," he quips.

Perhaps it's more his avuncular nature that makes him a no-go area for drug-sellers.

Even when he arrives into the room he spots my blue top and grins "great colour, Chelsea!" I haven't dressed to support his favourite soccer club, but his enthusiasm is ridiculously infectious.

Then there's the good-living, wholesome element, the fact that he recently lost two stone and enjoys porridge every morning. Nonetheless, a change of image is afoot.

He'll shortly be heading to the hair salon in the name of Shave Or Dye. But whether he emerges a skinhead or with a garish tuft of blue remains to be seen.


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