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"They tell Ryan stuff they won't tell anybody else": Behind the scenes at the Tubridy show

What’s it like working with one of Irish radio’s biggest names?


“IS IT NOISES or words?”

It’s just gone 10am on a Wednesday morning and two strangers are talking about the sounds one of them hears in their head.

Asking the probing questions is a researcher, Grace Waller, on Ryan Tubridy’s 2FM show. On the other end is a caller who wants to share their story with Tubridy’s audience. It’s up to Waller to determine if that would be an appropriate thing.

This is one of a number of serious decisions that the Tubridy team have to make every day: Is the caller too vulnerable? Is their story legitimate? Are their reasons sound? Are they ‘that’ person who rings in regularly?

Keepers of the gate

RTE Radio Schedules Tubridy with his Radio 1 colleague John Murray Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

41-year-old Ryan Tubridy describes his radio team of the past three to four years – Grace Callaghan (producer in charge), Grace Waller (researcher), Audrey Donohue (researcher), Jack Murphy (producer), Lorraine Dunne (broadcast coordinator) and Kate Proctor (researcher) – as “the organ grinders who make this monkey dance”.

While Ryan – who has been carving out a space in the Irish entertainment world since he was a teen – has everything from his salary to his personal life dissected in the press, his team don’t share in his national fame.

He calls them “the keepers of the gate”. “You wouldn’t mess with these guys,” he jokes. More importantly, they don’t want to mess with whoever is calling in.

Often, when people do go on air with Ryan, they’ll tell him something they never told the researchers, says Callaghan.

Because that’s what people do, they tell Ryan stuff that they will not tell anybody else.

During a behind-the-scenes media tour at the Tubridy Show, the team seemed unfazed by the camera flashes and probing questions. They’re clearly a tight-knit group, and relaxed about their work (which seems to this outsider to be quite emotionally charged).

Relaxed into his role

The Late Late Toy Shows Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Perhaps that sense of calm is down to Ryan himself easing into a more sanguine state of mind in recent times.

Back when he was at the helm of 2FM’s The Full Irish in the mid-2000s, he propelled it to becoming the second most popular show on 2FM. So when he returned to the station after a time at Radio 1, some nerves were understandable.

When I first got the job I was probably a little bit uptight and nervous, and I think listeners could sense that. And then after a while I started to relax into it. I started to enjoy it.

The team meet every day at 7am, source the items, and put together dossiers on all the guests for Tubridy. “I’m very lucky to have a bunch of people like this,” acknowledges Ryan.

Ryan and Hazel 200115

They also feel lucky to have the listeners they do. One of those is Hazel (pictured above), who recently appeared on the show to speak about her horrific rape ordeal. Her story resulted in an outpouring of support, and an increase of calls to the Rape Crisis Centre.

It took hours of phone calls and discussions to secure Hazel’s appearance, and she’s still in touch with the show. The team say that callers like Hazel are “very brave”.

“If we have somebody coming on, particularly if they are telling a particularly moving story or a story that involves them being in difficulty, we tend not to just say ‘thank you and goodbye’,” explains Tubridy of their ‘aftercare’ approach.

Who’s calling in?

What about callers who might have ulterior motives for ringing in, or seem disturbed?

“They’d nearly tell you straight away. They don’t hide it,” says Callaghan.

Her colleague Jack Murphy chips in: “It doesn’t tend to happen much. It’s not a huge thing.”

People are obvious enough when they are, and we’ve got to be respectful to them as well, we’ve got to talk to to them… although we’re trying to make a radio programme, we’re RTÉ, we have to give them some time and listen to them.

Counting who’s listening

ESB/Rehab People of the Year Awards Launch Ryan pictured in 2005 Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The JNLR figures are the yearly acid test for Irish radio shows. Last year, Tubridy’s ratings stopped sliding, thanks to 27,000 more listeners tuning in.

Tubridy claims not to understand the inner workings of the JNLR, quipping: “Someday, someone with a blackboard and a piece of chalk will explain what book-on-book means”.

But he’s a smart man – he realises that knowing whether people are switching off as soon as his voice drifts into their ear is part of his job.

“I just look at the paper and if I see an arrow beside my head, does it go up or down.
I don’t live or die by these things,” he says.

Drawn further on the JNLR, he indicates that things are looking up. “We had a very good newsday the last day, we are in a very positive frame of mind.”

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Changing the game

Pictured are (LtoR) Pat K Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Sure, things are positive, but they’re also changeable. Irish radio has a habit of making us comfortable with the same voices, and then one day clanging us over the head with the news that they’re jumping ship to another station.

So it was when Ray D’Arcy packed up his things at Today FM and decided to move back to RTÉ. Anton Savage will step behind the mic in his stead.

With Ray across the hall on Radio 1, is it time for Tubridy and team to take their foot off the gas for a bit?

“That would be a really bad thing, a terrible mistake to make,” says Ryan, shaking his head.

Irish Radio Launch Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

He indicates later on that he’s not hugely fussed over rumours about Ray taking over the Late Late Show either.

“The fact is there is a new voice somewhere else and that can only force us to up the game. We feel like people who don’t regularly listen to us and are curious, they’re now trigger friendly with the dial. We want them to know this is their new home.”

So with that in mind, we up the game in fact, rather than foot off the gas. It doesn’t matter who’s on at 9am on any other channel, we just want to be the best.

File photo: Veteran radio presenter Ray D'Arcy has annnounced he will leave Today FM for RTÉ Radio love. Source: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland!

But Tubridy does (refreshingly for a man so well trained in how to speak to the media) admit: “I welcome the departure of major competition, let me put it that way.”

Ever the gentleman, he adds: “With that in mind you know, obviously I wish Ray the very best of luck in his new role, and I do Anton. Everyone’s just trying to make good radio.” He even texted Savage when he heard his news.

Yes, good with the media, is Tubridy, who altruistically adds that he’s “not one of the people who looks over the wall all angry”.

“I just go: ‘Good luck to us all’”, he offers. His team look on, smiling.

The impression is left that sure, there are the big questions of radio figures and radio rivals, but this team’s daily concerns boil down to two things: a happy show with happy listeners.

Read: “He will get a respectful interview”: Ryan Tubridy extends Late Late invite to Taoiseach>

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