AS Oscar Wilde once observed, there is a fine line between being famous and notorious. The former was preferable, but the latter would do as well.
In a few short years, Neil Prendeville has managed to be both — at times entertaining, more times infuriating, but at all times intriguing and engaging.
He has generated controversy both on and off the air and has often spoken out against those with power and influence, enraging everyone from judges to Traveller groups.
Prendeville tends to shoot from the lip, but like him or lump him, he remains a voice to be reckoned with in Irish broadcasting. He is the most popular radio presenter in Munster and his morning talk show on 96fm attracts 106,000 listeners every day.
Prendeville began his career in radio in the 1970s, working as a disc jockey in pirate radio at a time when the only legalised radio stations were RTÉ1 and RTÉ2 but the demand for alternative radio produced an upsurge of pirate stations.
He had a show on ERI, one of the biggest pirate stations of the 1980s.
Prendeville decided to spread his wings and moved to Canada where he worked in TV and local radio as a news anchor.
When he came back to Ireland he worked with Capital Radio. At this time radio in Ireland was undergoing enormous change and more radio stations were forming, one of which was 96fm.
Shortly after returning to Ireland in the early ’90s he joined 96fm on their drive time show and regularly did the breakfast slot. It was here that his morning talk show took off and gained in popularity.
Since then, he has built up a reputation as the voice of concern, providing a platform to those with grievances, exhibiting righteous anger at injustice or listening to the occasional heartrending stories of listeners — the local radio equivalent of RTÉ’s Joe Duffy.
His radio career has not been without controversy, though, and he has been the subject of many complaints. In October 2004, he was reprimanded by the Broadcasting Commission for practising deceit when he put a Cork city council official live on air without his knowledge. Prendeville was also criticised by Cork City Council for behaving in an unacceptable manner.
The commission claimed the decision by the station to put a worker at the city’s Paul Street car park unknowingly on air to answer questions about delays exiting the council-owned, multi-storey building infringed the person’s privacy under the Broadcasting Act.
Despite setbacks like this (or, perhaps because of them), Prendeville’s radio programme has continued to attract more listeners and generate advertising revenue for the station’s owners.
With his growing popularity and profile, he began to write newspaper columns, most recently for the weekly paper The Cork Independent, and currently The Cork News.
He is as opinionated in print as he is on air. In an article for the Cork Independent, he wrote: “For too long women as victims have been made feel like criminals in Irish courts of law. There is a shocking statistic that sticks in my head; 10% of all rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the gardaí and 3% of those result in a court appearance. In all too many cases the convicted rapist or paedophile (or both) refuses to ever admit wrong, denying the victim total innocence and complete vindication.”
In the same article, he also lamented what he described as our political leaders’ penchant for fine dining and recalled how he once had the pleasure of drinking a glass of expensive Chateau Lynch Bage wine, courtesy of solicitor Gerald Kean, who is now his legal representative.
“It was given to me by the high-roller Gerald Kean at a swashbuckling affair in the good old days, at Castlemartyr Capella. It was the same night that Kean lashed out €10,000 at a charity auction on a Rolex for Lisa! Having said that, at least the solicitor to the stars has had the cop-on to trade in the old Lynch Bage for Cabernet Sauvignon, by the glass!
“Our leaders in Dáil Éireann don’t seem to get it though. They get the wine, the cheap booze and the subsidised food in the Dáil bar. So much so that they have recently come up with the novel idea of having their own Dáil wine label. Oh, but what to call it? ‘Chateau Biffo’ perhaps?”
He also offered the reflection that young people in general have changed for the worst. “Many young people these days have no values. Their behaviour is becoming increasingly antisocial and they have no manners.”
He feels that public order is in decline.
“Public disorder is a joke, the bail system is a joke and the judiciary is a joke. Drugs are a major problem now in Cork, and I’ve seen a huge increase in racism on the show. People’s tolerance of other nationalities is decreasing. I think they opened the flood gates too quickly and it’s only going to get worse.”
As a local celebrity, he has been called on to perform a number of public functions and in recent years has been seen to stomp the boards in Christmas pantomime at the Everyman Palace theatre in Cork.
“I’ve played magicians and the Lord Mayor a few times. It was great fun.”
With a lifelong interest in cooking, Prendeville realised a long-held ambition when he opened the Boardwalk restaurant on Lapp’s Quay in Cork in 2008.
Despite a shaky start as a result of the recession, the Boardwalk has built up a solid clientele and, like his radio programme, is going from strength to strength.
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