Brian Reynolds & the GPO
I think I must have always had an interest in radio, at least as a listener. I remember following the fate of the Flying Enterprise day by day on my granny's old valve set in 1952.
I listened to Dan Dare on Radio Luxembourg and even got a periscope from them by "mail order". I got a telescope as a prize from J Ashton Freeman for sending in a story about how my granny went out to the scullery in the dark to wash the dishes and picked up a live crab, which we had left in the sink after a trip to Bray, instead of a scrubbing pad to do the dishes. Her screams were heard as far as Mount Carmel.
But it wasn't until well after we moved to Ballybrack in 1954 that I got a chance to take an interest in the other side of the mike. We were living next door to Brian Reynolds who became a pal and who went into Radio Éireann when he left school. Brian was a radio person from the outset and I used to accompany him into the GPO and sit in the sound cubicle during many of the programmes he worked on. For some strange reason nobody questioned my presence. I suppose management probably thought I was a discman and the rest didn't care as long as I didn't get in the way of the output.
The desk in those days was not very complicated. The photo at the top of this page will give you an idea of how few dials and switches there were compared with a modern counterpart. I think it included a limiter and a compressor but these were seen by the most competent as almost an emergency backup and not the drop of a hat lazy fallback they are considered today.
The premises reminded me a bit of school. Apart from the technical equipment the accommodation was very basic and this is probably why it always seemed to me to retain a pioneering atmosphere. The staff were radio people. They lived the medium. This was the age of Michael Littleton who was a first class public service broadcaster, of Seán Mac Réamonn who was a dedicated extrovert, of Donnchadh Ó Dúlaing who could hold a conversation with a leprechaun. I remember Gerry Fitzgerald, who also had his own studio, and Jimmy Wogan who was frequently Brian's discman.
Even before Radio Éireann, Brian had rigged up a (radio not wireless) connection between our two houses and the two families even had an interhouse quiz one Christmas day. This was magic for its time, and my subsequent penetration of real radio in Henry St. was even more magic still.
I even got Brian to bring me back a Uher from Germany. It was a stereo machine and it came with two first class mikes. However Brian cajoled one of them back from me to give to Donal Flanagan in Henry St. so I never got to work the stereo option.
The Uher did come in useful however when Brian was working as a stringer for Deutsche Welle out of Dublin. A German's stud farm in Meath had been firebombed by the IRA and Brian was lined up to do a report. However, he got tied up in Henry St., so his wife Helga became the reporter and I became sound man with my virgin Uher. The final report even included an interview with me in German. Now I was not capable of doing an interview in German so we adopted what I consider a completely legitimate and ethical strategy. Helga interviewed me in English. She then translated my responses into German and we redid the interview with me reading my responses. As it happened I did have enough German enunciation to make that sound convincing and DW were none the wiser.
I don't think Brian would have been comfortable, however, with some aspects of RTÉ radio's cutting edge DAB today. I had occasion myself to give out about the lack of continuity and the mid-sentence interruptions on RTÉ CHOICE, not to mention the time a whole programme went out in digital break-up mode and nobody in there noticed. I learned from the station's reply that the continuity suite (friend and foe of the traditional broadcaster) had now been replaced by a "digital jukebox" which, like any good computer programme, just did what it was told, no more, no less, except on those occasions when the bugs bite.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I will always treasure my contact with the other side of the Radio Éireann mike in Henry St, through Brian, RIP.