Bird departing to spread his wings

Without any fanfare, one of the country’s best-known journalists bowed out from his on-air career with RTÉ after almost 40 years with the station.

Charlie Bird admitted that acting as stand-in presenter on yesterday’s Marian Finucane Show on Radio One was likely to have been his final broadcast for RTÉ, where he has worked for the past 38 years.

However, the reporter made no reference to his impending retirement during the programme. “I’d get hung by the tabloids if I had,” joked the owner of one of Ireland’s most recognisable voices yesterday.

Although Bird will not formally finish working with RTÉ until Sept 24, he admitted he had “nothing else planned” for his remaining time with the station. However, he took care to stress that he was only retiring from RTÉ and not from journalism.

“I intend to fill that blank sheet. It’s much too early to retire and I’ll be looking for new challenges and work,” said Bird, who hinted that he has more stories to tell about his life in RTÉ than those already contained in his biography, This Is Charlie Bird, published in 2006.

He also pointed out there were “a lot of good people” leaving RTÉ besides himself as the station undergoes a major cost-cutting programme.

One of the most high-profile journalists in the history of RTÉ through his role as chief news correspondent, Bird, who will celebrate his 63rd birthday in two weeks, admitted that taking early retirement from the station was not an easy decision.

He observed that working for the broadcaster had been his ambition as a young man and he recalled his delight at getting his first position in Montrose as a researcher in 1974.

He was promoted to news reporter in 1980, his first broadcast being a report on the AGM of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in Dublin.

Among the highlights of his career in RTÉ was the groundbreaking investigation with George Lee exposing tax evasion by National Irish Bank. In contrast, Bird admitted that his move to Washington as US correspondent was “probably the wrong decision”.

“I wanted to break the cycle of standing outside Leinster House for the rest of my life,” said Bird.

In recent years, Bird has worked on travel documentaries, to mixed critical reaction, including trips to the Amazon, Ganges, Arctic, and Antarctic.

Since his return from the US, Bird said he loved the experience of working in a live studio setting and revealed his newfound admiration for broadcasters such as Marian Finucane and Pat Kenny. “It drains you and it is really pressure, but I enjoyed it.”

Among the many goodwill messages he has received, Bird said he was particularly thrilled to get a text from the chief executive of the Road Safety Authority, Noel Brett, to thank him for a series on road deaths which he said was hugely influential in persuading politicians to bring in improved road safety legislation.

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