Those Far-Off Early Days

Pat Dunne, now producer of the Gay Byrne Show on Radio 1, was one of the early producers on The Gerry Ryan Show.

"We had a completely open brief, so anything went. One time we put two studios on air simultaneously, with fellow-producer Willie O'Reilly and me in one studeio playing sound effects as we tried to give a traditional Egyptian buriel to a dead beetle sent in by a listener.

"We invented a character called Doctor Caligari, an alter ego Gerry tapped into, who seemed to grow out of some shared interest in the macabre. He was a mad doctor type. A cross between a Middle-European defrocked medical practitioner and an Asian quack. He analysed bodies recovered from the Antarctic perma-frost and ghoulish things like that.

"It was a great time for me. It was like somebody had given me a the national airwaves to play with. But I don't think we'd get away with some of the more ludicrous things today.

"On St. Patrick's Day 1989 I brought in a pile of obscure Irish-American records.We started the morning by eating boxty. It inspired Gerry to pretend to be this fellow who was worse than anything out of Finian's Rainbow, with a mock Irish-American accent. The public joined in the joke, phoning in stories, and one woman I remember well who told us she was having serious problems with her jelly. Apparently she was trying to make jelly to look like the tricolour but the colours wouldn't stay separate!"

Producer Joan Torsney now admits that some antics have not gone down too well with the RTE bigwigs. "We did probably our first ever outside broadcast from Newbridge or somewhere on a miserlable day and nobody turned up. But Gerry went on and talked about the great reception he had received, bands marching, huge crowds, bands and so on. We decided to stir it up even more by running a competition for pairs of knickers from the nearby Penneys. So eventually we got the crowds out, but later the DF complained at the very idea of giving away knickers as prizes on the radio. How times have changed!"

Tornsey also remembers a more serious problem arising duting the divorce referendum. "Conscious of having to be fair to both sides of the debate, we nevertheless found it extremely difficult to find people prepared to go on air and speak in favour of divorce."

Siobhann Hough remembers the feats in the upper echelons of RTE some years ago at the very idea of putting a "loose cannon" like Gerry Ryan on at prime time. "Don't forget," she says, "They wouldn't even let him do a short review piece on his night-time show after the facous "Lambo" escapade. Someone said it was like putting Genghis Khan on daytime radio."


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