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John Murray goes quiet

By Gerard Cunningham

After five years John Murray would no longer be presenting his Radio 1 weekday morning show, from Friday 3 July. “The John Murray Show will come to a close”, the RTÉ statement stated simply.
Brendan O’Connor would be taking over for July. Further details followed. Murray would return to Radio 1 in the Autumn in a “brand new role”, but no more details were given. And there would be news about who followed Brendan O’Connor later. But not yet.
John Murray seemed an unusual choice to replace Ryan Tubridy in the morning slot five years ago. But then again RTÉ has never been quite sure what to do with the hour between 9AM and 10AM. Sandwiched between the news heavyweights of ‘Morning Ireland’ and the ‘Today’ programme, the slot has a mandate to concentrate on ‘lighter’ stories, with a mix of human-interest and offbeat interviews.
Murray has spent some time on ‘Morning Ireland’, before moving on topresent ‘The Business’. The Saturday programme didn’t offer much outlet for creativity (let’s face it, businessmen are dull), but Murray did find a comedy vein to mine in an amusing regular feature mocking the ridiculous excesses of business and PR jargon. He seemed like a talented character.
But all humour works in context, and it was the very dullness and self-importance of many of the subjects in The Business which made the jargon gags work. Despite the best efforts of Murray and his production team, the topical jokes which introduced each morning’s John Murray show always sounded, by contrast, a little laboured. It felt like the grafting of a TV monologue onto a radio production – Jay Leno meets Operation Transformation, yet the team persisted with it for the entire run of the show.
Nevertheless, Murray did manage to carve out an identity for himself, as for example in promoting the John Murray Walking Club, which tied in with the less successful Operation Transformation for slimmers – a minority interest imposed on a working audience unlikely to be in the mood for the faux exuberance it championed.
Who will replace Murray? In his first day on the programme, Brendan O’Connor was eager to point out that he was not the replacement. He told his audience he had simply been booked as a four-week holiday stand-in, and emphasised that this had happened before the announcement was made. Furthermore, he said, he had no idea who would take over after his holiday stint.
Ray D’Arcy, currently occupying the mid-afternoon slot between ‘Joe Duffy’ and ‘Drivetime’, would seem a logical choice for RTÉ. Before his defection back to the mothership at the end of last year, he helmed the mid-morning show on TodayFM.
And despite his protests that he knows nothing, Brendan O’Connor is also a possible candidate. He has built up a following in his time as a Saturday night chat show host, and is generally at ease with the mix of light features and magazine stories the timeslot has been deemed to require.
An outside candidate might be Marty Morrissey, who also took charge of the mid-afternoon slot for a while during the interregnum between Derek Mooney and Ray D’Arcy. Morrissey might equally be a candidate to return to the afternoon slot in the scheduling musical chairs if D’Arcy makes the move. Dublin 4 would not take cheer and Radio 1 would be in danger of losing its unique selling point, however.
Miriam O’Callaghan also held down the fort for a while, when Murray was on sick leave in 2013, and attracted notice, not least because listenership figures increased during her demure tenure. And she is only one of several women in the broadcaster who are good candidates for the position, among them Keelin Shanley, Rachel English, Aine Lawlor and Claire Byrne.
What seems unlikely is that RTE would abandon the basic template of its daytime schedule. John Murray’s replacement will host a programme that runs for one hour, between ‘Morning Ireland’ and the impressively serious Sean O’Rourke. A move as daring as increasing the running time of the show, or eliminating it and moving O’Rourke’s start to 9AM, is unlikely. And while the format may vary slightly in terms of tone and topics, RTÉ’s innate conservatism means that it will essentially continue the established pattern of interview segments with occasional quizzes and musical breaks. A truemagazine programme, with extended outside reports from contributing reporters, seems to be the least likely format in the Autumn.
Meantime, none of his team at the station has any firm information and there is no news of what John Murray’s “brand new role” (the description itself suggests a jaded joylessness) in the Autumn will be, whether a return to an old haunt like ‘The Business’ or ‘Morning Ireland’, or a new venture. •