AA Roadwatch broadcasters celebrate 21 years

IT has outlived many of its most famous characters like the Red Cow roundabout and the Westlink toll bridge, so AA Roadwatch had plenty of reason to celebrate yesterday when it marked 21 years of broadcasting traffic updates to a congested nation.

The service, which provides over 11,500 live traffic bulletins every year to national radio stations, marked its coming of age with a gathering of current and former presenters in Dublin.

Among the faces were TV presenter Lorraine Keane, RTÉ weather presenter Nuala Carey, record- breaking mountaineer Ian McKeever, 2FM’s Ruth Scott and Louise Heraghty, and the Afternoon Show’s Trevor Keegan, proving that the AA service has often acted as a springboard for other careers in broadcasting and elsewhere.

They recalled some of the more memorable traffic reports over the decades, including loose llamas on the M50 and chickens from an overturned lorry in Cavan, posing an even greater hazard by laying dozens of eggs.

They also reminisced on the late lamented Eye in the Sky service, when presenter Bob Conway provided live reports from a helicopter in the skies over Dublin.

Many also noted how AA Roadwatch has also garnered some critical attention over its lifetime, especially for the so-called DART accent of some of its earlier presenters, most notably Keane and her pronunciation of ‘roundabout’.

The service, which was the brainchild of AA director Denis Fisk was first launched on Morning Ireland in September 1989.

The AA’s director of policy Conor Faughnan one of the best-known AA Roadwatch broadcasters, who spent over a decade presenting traffic updates, described the 21st anniversary as “a fantastic milestone”.

“The timing [of its launch] was fantastic as the economy was just taking off and prosperity resulted in the number of cars on Irish roads doubling,” recalled Faughnan.

“Traffic took over from weather as the nation’s main talking point and AA Roadwatch was part of that,” he observed.

Faughnan said his own most embarrassing on-air moment occurred when former 2FM DJ Barry Lang turned down the fader on a Simple Minds song to allow listeners hear him singing along in full voice to the tune. “It ended my X-factor career before it really began,” he laughed.

Nicola Hudson, AA Roadwatch controller and Morning Ireland regular, said the service had adapted to modern technology with a presence on Twitter and an iPhone app, as well as its website which can attract over 400,000 hits per month.

She said AA Roadwatch was busier than ever, despite the absence of so many bottlenecks, such as Abbeyleix and Limerick’s Dock Road, although traffic itself is expected to be the lightest for years due to the economic downturn and the improved road network.

As for her own red-faced moment on air, Hudson recalled how she coined a somewhat racy spoonerism in a reference to Killorglin’s Puck Fair. “It was on Lyric FM so thankfully it had the most chilled out audience,” she giggled.

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