Monday 11 December 2017

Love and magic as we all gather round the wireless

Radio gets a bad rap at Christmas. The casual chatter is usually about crashing out in front of the telly, lamenting the passing of Eric Morecambe and comparing notes on the queen's Christmas message. You know that annual knees-up where, in palatial splendour, the monarch delivers a wide-ranging lecture to her subjects.

How is radio expected to compete with the queen going 3D!?

You seldom ever hear about people pigging out in front of the wireless. Well, not since Billy Cotton presented the morale-boosting Workers' Playtime on the BBC Home Service after World War Two.


The nearest thing we have to that austerity-busting mindset is the annual highlight of RTE Radio 1's Christmas Eve fare.

Joe Duffy on Grafton Street is now as traditional as the last of the Cheeky Charlies. Two hours of live jollity and bonhomie with, as Joe said, "a light seasonal dusting of frost".

Members of the public, who presumably haven't heard of Skype, took the opportunity to say hello to relatives abroad.

Or even "everyone who knows me and everyone in Wicklow". Some enthusiastically paraded their talents to win a prize.

On hand to keep the show moving along with the zip and panache of Oscars night were Joe's team of Billy Crystals, the crew comics, musos and impersonators that contribute to Funny Friday, the show affectionately known as Friday.

Oliver Callan hit a rapid fire routine that had the public hooting along.

And Joe was joined by the Cinderella of Irish comedy, Brendan O'Carroll, aka Mrs Brown.

Taking time out from working on a manifesto for when the public vote for him to take over from HRH, O'Carroll acted as co-host, playing the role of loveable gurrier and gently insulting the guests. "What's your name? Emily what? Emily Ugly? Oh, Emily Hugarty ... Are you still at school? Stay there for a while."

Declan O'Rourke, in Grafton Street to busk for the Simon Community, was adding a dusting of seasonal class when those naughty gremlins that sometimes plague RTE's outside broadcasts attempted to spoil the party. Pity.

The pace was so frenetic, with guests being trundled on and off with the speed of Olympic cyclists, it was no wonder that Joe slipped up when introducing "the wonderful Ryan Sheridan. How are you Ryan? Great to see you again", before being informed, "I'm not Ryan Sheridan."

It was in fact a puzzled Gavin James who went on to sing a Christmas classic that warmed Joe's heart.

Sure isn't that the spirit of Christmas?

A time for strangers, who're standing in the cold, are made welcome. Where else would you get it!

Someone who wisely stayed in the studio was Ryan Tubridy for his Christmas eve morning show On The Phone With Santa (RTE 2FM).

Like radio at Christmas, Tubs sometimes gets a bad rap.

But at the core of his personality is a generosity of spirit that allows him to ham it up with aplomb when trying to capture the essence of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life.

"Just one more sleep," he enthused on the 24th before dialling Santa (or Santy as many of us know him) at the North Pole.


"We could be on to something here," he promised as Santa's phone rang out and children all over Ireland held their breath.

The big man, Santa that is, admitted he had 10,000 pages of names on the good side when Ryan enquired if his Naughty or Nice list was long.

Hearing six-year-old Simone buzzing with excitement when Tubs put her through to Santa was enough to remind you that all the weeks of ballyhoo are truly worth it.

Responding to Santa's request that there be no fire in the fireplace because he'll be coming down the chimney, Simone chimed, "We love you..."

And we had it right there. Live on radio. Unconditional love. The magic of Christmas.

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