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talking to joe

Joe Duffy's taking Liveline to TV - and here's how he'll be doing it...

We talked to Joe. He had quite a bit to say.

IT’S A PROJECT he’s been pitching to RTÉ bosses for years – taking Liveline to TV.

Or at least, a version of it.

Joe Duffy’s new show – Call Back – is set for broadcast late this autumn: the pilot’s already in the can, and five more will be put together in the coming months.

In a phone interview with, Duffy’s quick to correct any preconceptions we might have about taking such a well-known radio format to the screen.

“It’s a simple idea I’ve been hawking for years – people often say to me: whatever happened that man or that woman afterwards that you gave the money to or built the house for or whatever.

“I just put the idea to them – is it worthwhile? It’s something we wouldn’t do on Liveline on radio because Liveline is such a fast-moving programme – you have to do today’s stuff and the calls you’re getting today.

“[New RTÉ One controller] Adrian Lynch took an interest in it when he took over and he’s pushed it.”

The pilot show will focus on the story of Susie Long, the Kilkenny cancer sufferer whose letter to Liveline sparked a national debate about healthcare for cancer patients.

Duffy will also be taking a look back at the events of what he describes as a “dramatic” day in his studio – when a woman called in with the reg plate of a van belonging to two men who she said had scammed her elderly neighbours out of €10,000.

Soon, listeners were calling in from all over Dublin. The van was spotted on the M50, then on the Navan Road – and eventually ended up at a supermarket car-park in Greystones, where it was intercepted by gardaí.

“It’s basically going back, taking up stories that were big over the years on Liveline.

“It’s almost Reeling in the Years in that sense – you go back and see how they get on, how their families get on.”

24/12/2012. Joe Duffy Shows on Grafton Street During one of his pre-Christmas Grafton St broadcasts. Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

The veteran broadcaster also talked us through his daily routine for Liveline, and how the show responds to breaking news stories, during a wide-ranging phone chat.

And he had some interesting things to say about those contentious 50:50 time rules from the BAI, governing referendum broadcasts.

On why people pitch in to help…

It’s the lifeblood of Liveline: someone calls in with a problem of the life-and-death nature, or less serious but still a big deal to the caller in question.

Recently, for instance, the show generated headlines after comedian Brendan O’Carroll called in to help out an Irish student couple on their J1, who were robbed in Orlando. Other members of the Irish community also pitched in, with offers of jobs and a place to live.

“On the one hand, it’s incredibly uplifting to be part of it – and a privilege,” says Duffy.

“But Irish people right through all the unspeakable events of the last few years, in terms of the economy, have been incredibly generous.

And the other thing, I think: radio is a pretty transparent medium. They hear a voice and people can get a very clear grasp of ‘this is a genuine person in need’.

On why callers share such personal stories…

The listenership figures for radio in general back Duffy’s assertion that “Irish people are probably the most radio-literate people in the world”.

Frequently, the afternoon broadcast will focus on the story of just one person – like this week’s segment about Lorraine Wolfe and her son Carlos, who had taken to sleeping at the Mater A&E because they had nowhere else to go.

Says Duffy: “Irish people in the main, they think they’re talking to their auntie or their uncle or their granny or whatever.”

In the case of this week’s call…

“We had other people phone in on different topics – JobBridge or whatever. We never got to them because that woman was so engaging, and then her son came on – so it took off in a different direction.

People know what they’re getting into, when they come on to tell their story, he says:

“Mostly people who go into that scenario are either looking for someone who’s been in a similar situation, a bit of real practical advice, or they’re looking for help themselves generally, whether it be a house or a job or whatever.”

He adds:

“I’ve yet to meet anyone who says ‘I’m sorry I went on your programme’… I’ve yet to meet anybody who says ‘I’m sorry I said that’.”

5/5/2015. Masses for Children Killed In Easter Rising Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

On his working day…

Given the ‘let’s see where the callers take us’ nature of the show, listeners could be forgiven for thinking the host simply shows up, and presses the button for ‘line one’.

Not so…

“I’m up at 6… I do the papers at ten past six in the gym. Then I text or email the programme with any ideas.

“I monitor radio broadcasts non-stop… I’m like the member of the French Resistance lost in Normandy during the Second World War waiting on the code word, before I spring into action.

“We talk then, at 9 o’clock, with the series producer about what’s around. And then I just listen to the radio non-stop. I come in at 10 or whatever.”

When Liveline takes to the air at a quarter to two, it has to be engaging, and as Duffy puts it, “different, different, different”.

It’s an odd time to say the least. So I’ve got to be aware that at a quarter to two people will have heard a fair bit that morning – Morning Ireland, Pat Kenny, Sean O’Rourke, the local stations: what can we land with at a quarter to two that will keep people listening?

He’s keen to point out: “It has to be produced. It has to be put together.”

I’m not a social worker; I’m not a politician. My job is to make a programme that people listen to and people come back to.

12/05/2015. SIPTU book launch - A City in Civil Wa

On those 50:50 BAI rules and why he decided to debate the marriage referendum anyway…

Rules laid down by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland have made coverage of referendum debates a tricky subject for broadcasters (background on the rules here).

For instance, during the run up to the same-sex marriage vote it emerged Marian Finucane was using stopwatches to ensure her programme’s coverage was balanced precisely.

For Liveline, that threw up some obvious problems.

But despite reservations in RTÉ that the whole area was just too tricky for a live show to tackle, Duffy went ahead and devoted a programme to the topic, just days before the vote.

“I was very keen… We hadn’t been doing it because of this referendum lunacy. The 50:50 stuff that was just killing Liveline.

You were being told ‘two minutes here, two minutes there’. And I was arguing that surely we could balance it out over the week.

“A row” erupted as he pressed his point – but the show went ahead as he’d intended.

“My point was that the vote was on Friday, and the [broadcasting] moratorium was on Thursday at 2 o’clock.

“So I made the argument in here, we have to do it from Monday – so that by Wednesday, by half two on Wednesday, if we need to reframe it or recalibrate the timings we can do it by three o’clock.

“I thought we had some fascinating programmes. The only thing I would say – we weren’t allowed do a tele-poll which annoyed me…

Why not?

I don’t know. I don’t know why. I’d love to know why.


The BAI rules must to be changed to allow for more free-flowing debates on the airwaves, Duffy contends.

“I think it should be a looser system – especially for radio, and the BAI thing primarily applies to radio, It doesn’t apply to the newspapers.

“Radio is a very transparent medium. If I’m trying to manipulate people, people spot it like a light. If I’m biased, people are on to it like a light.

“I think they have to look at it, they definitely have to look at it.”

Note: Call Back debuts this autumn on RTÉ One. 

Read: These two figures show why people are so worried about the Dublin crisis

Read: Emotional radio as Dublin woman speaks with the man who cared for her father as he died 

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