Pat Courtenay is back on Dublin radio.
It’s a line that I personally have dreamed of typing in my capacity as a writer for Radiowaves News and now I can do it for real. It may be for just a few minutes a week but it means I can put the old recordings to rest for a while and anticipate being entertained afresh by his unique talent, a talent which has been sorely missed since he departed our shores a decade ago after a fallout with 98FM.
For each of their ten weekends on air, Dublin temporary station 949 The Rock will broadcast a piece by Pat which will premier on Kevin Branigan’s Breakfast Show on Friday mornings. The first piece, which aired last Friday at 8.15am, was vintage Courtenay: guaranteed to send Dublin commuters off to work with a smile on their faces.
The word legend is used far too easily in today’s society, which seems eager to bestow fifteen minutes of fame on anybody who can part their lips (Paris Hilton anyone?), but in Courtenay’s case the word can be applied liberally and freely.
Earlier this week he was kind enough to lend me his ears and his ever-active tongue for a few minutes to answer some questions. I began by asking him how it felt to be back on the radio in Dublin?
Pat: It’s a helluva lot easier when i don’t have to get up at quarter to four in the morning. Here it’s Springtime – seventeen degrees – I can sit in my back garden and record things to go on the radio in Dublin.
To be honest I can’t really remember NOT being on the radio in Dublin; it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was but it was TEN YEARS!
However I’m amazed, and “delirra and excirra” to be perfectly ‘Francis’ with you, that somebody actually asks me to go on the radio in Dublin after all this time. Imagine how you’d feel if, after ten years, somebody gets in touch and says we’ve got a radio station starting up for a couple of months, would you do something for us? It’s very flattering, very very pleasing and I wish I could do a bit more but I don’t have the facilities.
Radiowaves: Has this been your only offer in the last ten years?
Pat: Well there has recently been discussion of a new venture that will probably start there soon, so yeah, there’s a couple of fellows who wouldn’t mind me back on the radio there.
Radiowaves: This could obviously lead to something more permanent – I’m sure it would be possible for you to throw a show together?
Pat: Yeah, and it’s funny but you don’t really think about it until you start doing it. I have actually, in the last week since I did that first piece on The Rock, had a couple of really good ideas which I’d like to try out but, once again, I’m having difficulty with facilities. My recording facilities, at this point, consist of the headset that I’m talking to you on, and the laptop that I’m watching internet porn on while I’m talking to you…oops, actually I’m looking at an aerial picture of O’Connell Bridge.
Radiowaves: Well it’s 12.30 in the early hours of a Monday morning and considering Dublin has changed so much since you were last here, you were probably right the first time.
Pat: Ah, in that case, at 12.30 in the early hours of Monday morning, if Dublin has changed then there WON’T be a naked woman on O’Connell Bridge.
Radiowaves: On the contrary, there’ll probably be a few. You don’t know what you’re missing, in fact I think Dublin started to change the day you left!
Pat: EXCUSE ME! I’ll tell you what it was, I left a few of them for you all…enough to go around at last.
Radiowaves: Ah, so at last we’ve found a reason to be grateful for you leaving! Are you doing any radio for anybody else at the moment?
Pat: No, I’m not doing any radio for anybody else at the moment. Nobody wants me, it’s too hard for them. I was much too hard for them (laughs). It was also bloody hard for me! What I hated was doing Breakfast all the time because all I ever wanted to do was Drive and everybody kept getting me to do Breakfast. I’ve only ever, in my whole time which is a quarter of a century, only done about two and a half years on Drive, the rest was all Breakfast.
Radiowaves: Here’s an idea, how about doing a Breakfast Show for Dublin, or Ireland, from New Zealand on one of the new radio stations that are starting up?
Pat: Oh My God, we could be onto something! You could do it though, couldn’t you. Where the studio facilities do exist it would be possible. After all, we did the 98 Breakfast Show live from Second Avenue during USA 94 and the lads who heard us on the way to the airport dropped in for a pint while we were doing the following morning’s one. It was live, and that was back then, so if you could do something good then you can do something brilliant now. Food for thought!
Radiowaves: Is it true that you recently won an award for a commercial that you did in New Zealand?
Pat: Yeah, it was for one of those companies that makes phonecards that you use when you’re overseas to make cheap calls home and I did a series of commercials, one was in Indian, one was in Cantonese, another one was in Afikaans, but it was the one in German that won an award. It wasn’t me, as such, more the writer, but she wrote them specifically for me to do.
When it comes to awards and me, what I’ve always said about awards is: “Awards, yeah, whatever, show me the money; awards, what a waste, the ceremony’s crap, the food’s lousy,” and you have to clap the people you hate.
But when you win one it’s wicked, it’s brilliant and you get to think of smartarse things to say on the microphone. The very first time I got an award, the very first time ever remember, it was ‘Broadcaster of the Year’ or something, I got up on the microphone and said: “Thanks very much, I’ll put it with the others!” My table of mates cringed and everybody else in the room hates you at that moment but it’s fun, it’s a wind-up.
There weren’t any awards when I was on in Ireland; first, the pirates didn’t have them because we weren’t supposed to be there, we were invisible people; and then they didn’t have awards when the legitimate stations were there because everybody hated each other and no-one could get together. I would’ve liked a few because I reckon Elaine and I would’ve got a few awards…I like to think.
Radiowaves: And definitely yourself and Bob and Fionnuala…
Pat: Bob Gallico, and Fionnuala, and all the people at Energy – we didn’t need awards because we used to have a ball every day…
Radiowaves: Which was your reward…
Pat: It was. It was great fun. Plus the fact that, we’re talking 1987 and in 1987 Chris Cary was giving me £400 cash in my back pocket, every week.
Radiowaves: Even today that’s a lot of money.
Pat: You’re telling me, and as far as we were concerned he might as well’ve walked across to the Leeson Lounge and given it to the barman!
Radiowaves: Was Chris around much in those days?
Pat: No, Sybil really ran the show. When Chris would arrive things would go chaotic and then he’d leave and everything would go right again. He has wonderful ideas but he likes to change things every 5 seconds so, the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is so true. He fixes things that are not gonna break over the next twenty years, and if it’s been going really well – just leave it. If it is going badly, Chris is a great man to fix it, but sometimes he thinks it’s going badly when it’s not, and he fixes it and it goes badly and then you needed people like Sybil to fix it again.
Radiowaves: So how did you end up on satellite Nova?
Pat: Chris asked me. He invited me over…
Radiowaves: Energy was gone at that point…
Pat: Yeah, I was working as a consultant on a tiny little pirate station up beside the Garda HQ when Chris asked me over. Jim O’Neill was over there at the time, so I thought: “Well, if Jim’s there it’ll be alright.” And it was…for a bit. It was weird, I was in Production as well and I was making promos in other languages, only one of which I could speak!
It was good for a while but Jim and I just got to the end of the year and we couldn’t take any more of the binge-fuelled outbursts, and I won’t say any more about what the binges involved, so we decided that we couldn’t put up with it any longer and we went home for Christmas and that was it.
Radiowaves: A shame, really but I think the whole Nova set-up was on its way out at that point anyway.
Pat: Yeah, for Chris it was a hobby he could afford…
Radiowaves: And, let’s face it, he brought a lot of great radio to this country.
Pat: Didn’t he though. What a lot he gave to an awful lot of us.
Radiowaves: So, from the past right up to the present, what was the last station you worked on?
Pat: It was a very boringly structured network station run out of Auckland to a station about two hours drive outside of Auckland and it was called More FM. They have standalone stations in most of the cities but run controlled programming by a network.
Radiowaves: And you were obviously doing Breakfast there.
Pat: Yeah, I was doing Breakfast there.
Radiowaves: And did you leave there of your own accord or was it mutual agreement?
Pat: I dug my own grave really. I don’t know if I like radio in this country anymore, it’s not so much radio anymore as an office.
Radiowaves: The same can possibly be said about Irish radio…do you listen much?
Pat: Not really. It hasn’t quite got that bad and I’m not sure the country’s mentality will ever allow it to.
There will be more from Pat next week. In the meantime tune into The Rock on 94.9MHz FM in Dublin and 1278kHz AM across Leinster to hear the man in action.
Interview by John Fleming