John Murray goes quiet

An edited version of this article appeared in Village magazine, July 2015 edition

The announcement was brief and to the point. After five years, RTÉ announced, John Murray would no longer be presenting the 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 to present 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 a regular feature mocking the ridiculous excesses of business and PR jargon.

But all humour works in context, and it was the very dullness and self-importance of many of the subjects in the Business programme which made the jargon gags work through contrast. Despite the best efforts of Murray and his production team, the topical jokes which introduced each morning’s show always sounded a little laboured. It was an odd decision, and felt like the grafting of a TV monologue onto a radio production, 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 Operation Transformation.

The next question of course becomes, 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 to date, 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 requires.

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.

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 tenure. And she is only one of several women in the broadcaster who are possible candidates for the position, among them Keelin Shanley, Rachel English, Aine Lawlor and Clare 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 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 conservatisim mean that it will essentially continue the established pattern of interview segments with occasional quizzes and musical breaks. A true magazine programme, with extended outside reports from contributing reporters, seems to be the least likely format in the Autumn.

Meantime, there is as yet no news of what John Murray’s “brand new role” in the Autumn will be, whether a return to an old haunt like The Business or Morning Ireland, or a new venture, either on television or radio. When the news broke, despite lots of speculation about the future, none of his team at the station had any firm information.