A ROLLERCOASTER is how TV reporter Paul Byrne describes his 40 years in broadcasting.
He started off in pirate radio having left school before he was 15, on May 15, 1981. But the Ovens-based father-of-two is critical of the competition, RTÉ TV news, for not getting out of Dublin enough.
As the southern correspondent for Virgin Media One TV news, Paul prides himself on reporting stories that are of national significance but can be covered from Munster.
“Just because you could be covering a health story doesn’t mean it has to be covered from Dublin,” says Paul.
“It could be covered from Limerick or Cork, or we could interview a doctor from Kerry on the health issue of the day.
“There’s no reason why RTÉ shouldn’t be doing these stories from Cork. The output from Cork by RTÉ Television is dismal.”
Paul, aged 55, was born in Blarney Street and was brought up on the Pouladuff Road, Crosshaven and Douglas. He was a pupil at Christian Brothers College when he became interested in radio.
“I thought I’d like it,” he recalls.
“Ask anyone who started in radio and nine out of ten will tell you they sat in front of a record player imagining they were in a studio, using a hairbrush as a microphone.”
At just 14 years of age, he had a 15-minute Saturday morning slot called Teen Beat on CCLR (Cork City local Radio) on which he played music.
“My father wrote the script for me the first morning. I was sweating and worrying leading up to it. It was frightening at first but I got hooked.”
Paul says he hated school.
“I’d be asked a question and I wouldn’t know the answer. The Brother would say, ‘I bet you know what’s number one in the charts.’ I’d ask him if he wanted me to go through the top 30!”
It was a difficult decision for Paul’s parents to allow him to leave school without sitting the Inter Cert or Leaving Cert.
“But I was lucky in that my father had a business in auctioneering, property and furniture. From a very young age, I was involved in it. I had that cushion to fall back on.
“Eventually, my parents gave in and allowed me to leave school. They knew school wasn’t for me.”
Paul admits that, for a while, he was “embarrassed” about dropping out of school. But now, with a successful career, he feels confident.
“I travelled through all of the pirate stations in Cork and I did discos in community halls for teenagers. I had a travelling road show called ‘Frisco Disco’.”
A spell working for Cork Multichannel TV saw Paul hosting a magazine-type programme.
“At one stage, I went to Radio South when independent radio came around. Then I was working on the Neil Prendeville Show on 96FM and I did inserts to the news.”
One of the biggest stories that Paul reported on was the so-called ‘House of Horrors’ case, when three men living in a flat on Wellington Terrace in Cork went missing in 1994.
One of the men’s bodies, that of Patrick O’Driscoll, 32, was found dismembered in the grounds of Lotabeg house. No trace was ever found of the other two men, Cathal O’Brien and Kevin Ball.
Paul was working on a traffic report in Cork city when a contact “led me to a field and told me where Patrick O’Driscoll was said to be buried. I was thinking ‘is this guy going to kill me? Is this a set-up?’”
But it wasn’t.
A murder charge against Fred Flannery of no fixed abode collapsed in the Central Criminal Court. The accused took his own life in 2003.
“It was huge story at the time,” says Paul.
“I’ve since covered numerous murder cases and multi-million drug seizures. Then there’s always health stories as our health system seems to be failing a lot of people. People who are in need of life-saving operations such as children often turn to the media. They don’t want to but they have to.
“Nine times out of ten, the operation is scheduled for the following week after they’ve gone to the media.”
Paul says he developed “a real taste for news and at the same time, I love comedy,” adding: “I’ve gigged around doing game shows from TV like Blind Date and Blankety Blank. I love comedy and I love covering crime.”
In 1998, he applied for a job in what was then TV3 as Southern Correspondent. “The first story I covered was the death of a teenager who was stabbed, It was very sad.”
Paul describes his job as “fantastic” and adds: “I get homesick beyond the Jack Lynch Tunnel. I’ve only been in Dublin for a work meeting once in the last ten years.
“There’s plenty happening in Cork. We’re filing five or six stories from the region every week. Even if there isn’t a news story on a given day, I can always do a colour piece.
“I can never understand why they say (the summer) is the silly season. There’s always something out there.”
Paul feels “privileged” that people come to him and tell him their stories.
The job can be pressurised though.
“I could be in court covering a court case that’s going on for four to six hours. I have to summarise it in 45 seconds or a minute and a half.
“I might have to file for the 12.30pm news and if it’s running tight, I just have to go live outside the court.”
How will Paul celebrate forty years behind the microphone on May 15?
“We’ll have a glass of Tanora!”
Spoken like a true Cork man.