Ray D’Arcy can’t do without his morning jog – and now he’s on a mission to get his listeners running too. ‘Run With Ray’ comes to Cork on Monday, the first of five live radio shows the radio presenter is hosting across the country. Try it and you’ll be hooked, he tells Esther McCarthy
Ray D’Arcy smiles as he recalls his very first time taking to the airwaves, in a rudimentary studio as a teenage DJ. There was plastic over the equipment to prevent it getting wet, but it honed his love for radio.
“There was a guy called Sean De Paor and he had a prime Sunday afternoon slot on a local radio station in Naas and he was playing traditional Irish music.
“He said to me: ‘Would you come and do 20 minutes of pop music?’ That was my introduction to radio. It was in this shed and there was a fertiliser bag over the decks to keep the rain off. But we were broadcasting!”
Little could D’Arcy have imagined then that he would become one of the best-known broadcasters in Ireland, though the entrepreneurial teenager was already developing a fledgling career on the disco front. “I’d been sitting in the hall at the Friday night disco at CYM in Kildare.
“Beside me was this guy called Paul who had just moved from England. He said that he and his brother were DJs in England and they still had the gear. So we started setting up together and then he decided he wanted to be in a rock band because he was a drummer. So I bought the gear from him, I sold my bike and bought the gear from him. That was it, I was 15.”
By the time D’Arcy, who grew up in a housing estate in Kildare town as one of nine children, went to college to study psychology, he was doing a couple of local nightclub discos and 21st birthdays a week.
Even then, he didn’t see a broadcasting career as a likelihood and completed his degree.
“At some stage I sort of said to myself: ‘If nothing happens by the age of 30 I’d go off and do whatever I was doing.’ When I was in my twenties I applied here and got Jo Maxi.” ‘Here’ is the RTÉ studios in Montrose, where we meet just hours before his weekday afternoon radio show is due to air. It was a big move, but he feels at home at the national broadcaster to which he returned four years ago following 14 successful years at Today FM.
“Everything was aligned. Today FM is sort of a younger person’s radio station. I was hitting 50. I felt that maybe things that were concerning me may not have been concerning our listeners as much as they used to. And it was a challenge. Radio One was the grown up station. We’d been doing more and more things on Today FM that would have fitted perfectly into RTÉ.
One of those passions is running, and next week he’ll be bringing his radio show to Cork and encouraging us to don our running shoes. Run With Ray will see him stage five live shows around the country — including The Regional Park in Ballincollig on Monday, June 10 — followed by a 5k run.
Running has become one of his great loves, to the extent that he feels out of sorts if he doesn’t hit the road with his running pal, the family’s Golden Retriever, Stanley. But it’s a habit he didn’t take up until his late thirties.
“I never really saw the point in running. I’d joke that I was a member of the Kildare athletics club. But the reason for that was that there was a girl called Breda who was the best looking girl in the town and she was a runner. So all the lads joined the athletics club.” In his twenties and thirties he played five-a-side football, but it was a desire to learn to swim by the time he turned 40 that somewhat randomly brought him to running. “I’d tried but never learned to swim.
“Life had taken over and I had no targets. So I thought: ‘Okay I have to set myself a goal’. Looking back now it was a bit silly and foolhardy but there was a triathlon in Skerries. You swim, get on the bike and then do a 10k run at the end. To me that was a tag-on at the end of it. But from there on I just began to love it. I can’t see myself not running.
“The notion of not running is, and I know this sounds a bit odd, but it’s sort of scary enough. Jenny (his wife) runs most days as well. That’s good, because she understands what I get from it and I understand what she gets.
He first did Run With Ray ten years ago at Today FM as a way of making running more accessible to people who wanted to take it up. “The way to make it easy for people was to bring it to them. We brought it all over the place — there was a thousand people in each place. I’m still meeting people now, people who come into the TV show, saying: ‘Thanks for introducing me to running, I’m running marathons now’.
“By just giving them a target and going to them and then holding their hand, so to speak, with support on air and through podcasts, then it’s an event as well. It’s something to aim towards. There will be people who are runners already. It’s all inclusive but we’re hoping that people who’ve never run before will join us.”
Radio has not only given D’Arcy a successful career, it also brought him love. When he joined Today FM he started working with producer Jenny Kelly.
Their on-air dynamic gradually turned into something more personal and the couple, who have two children, married in 2013.
“It was a lovely time and a lovely opportunity because we could do whatever we liked. We could make mistakes and we weren’t under the glare of, like now, social media and all that sort of thing.”
Becoming one of RTÉ’s highest-paid radio and TV presenters means he’s come under media and public scrutiny, and recently he found himself having to dismiss speculation about the future of his TV show, which returns in September.
The rumours seem to have come about as Tommy Tiernan enjoys success with his summer slot, also on Saturday nights. D’Arcy says that he is a fan of Tommy’s show and that the two are good friends. “I’m looking at it and Tommy is great. We did 27 shows this year, internationally that would be seen as an awful lot of shows.
As a broadcaster he’s been paying close attention to the story of the Jeremy Kyle show, which was axed by ITV following the death of a participant. “I think it was a disaster waiting to happen. That’s the tyranny of figures. They were getting 1.5 million for a daytime show. And as a commercial broadcaster, which ITV is, you can’t ignore those figures.”
He reflects on how much broadcasting has changed in this generation, with the growth of local radio and the success of stations like Newstalk and Today FM. But for him, one constant remains.
“When you make TV programmes and you invite people on you have a duty of care. You really have a duty of care to your guests. I would always say to everybody I’ve worked with over the years, that people should walk away from whatever we’re doing embellished in some way, shape or form.
“They should feel good about themselves and good about us. That’s our goal in the main.”