For 50 years Sunday Miscellany has provided the nation with its musings, music and most importantly memories, writes Eileen Casey.

When Sunday Miscellany’s first radio broadcast went on air in November 1968, a reviewer declared it a ‘dead-zone’ and that ‘it would never take off’.

Time has proven that nothing could be further from the truth. Fifty years on, supported by The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany is now in the top ten of radio favourites. Those familiar with the programme are committed fans.
From the moment the programme’s signature music (Galliard Ballagia)plays its glorious opening notes to the final credits, this totally engaging radio show creates a textured delight of ‘mind pictures’.

Radio by its nature, undoubtedly provides an intimate space, a one-to-one relationship between the voice and the listener, but to keep that listener on board the 700-800 word essay must grab and hold the attention from the very beginning. On Sunday Miscellany, the author reads his/her own work which adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

I ask Sarah Binchy, the current producer of the programme, to try and define a typical gem. However, even before the question is asked I know that the answer will not be definitive, that although gems are sifted from the huge submission postbag, their appeal isn’t easily pinned down. For one thing, there’s no formula as such.

“The pieces we receive are really akin to a portrait of the country through the prism of writing,” this confident, friendly, young woman tells me and yes, that’s a solid enough definition but I’d like a bit more, so I press her further.

“A piece is more than the sum of its parts,” she adds but, sensing I’m still not completely satisfied, she elaborates; “a piece can be funny, wry, nostalgic…or sometimes, as they come to me, scripts speak to each other, a conversation is begun which usually translates to a very satisfying, organic programme.

“There’s a synchronism about the selection also,” she adds, warming to her subject. “Sometimes I’ll think of a theme and lo and behold, pieces focused on that theme will start appearing.”

She also cites the importance of having an accessible style and of course being in touch with what’s topical (housing problems for example are current at the moment). However, that’s not to rule out nostalgic memory pieces, which are popular with listeners.

“Or travel writing, personal accounts of events and happenings, reportage, appreciations, poetry.” Although poetry is a relatively recent addition to the programme, it’s proving to be a highlight.

One such contributor poet is Jane Clarke, who says that while growing up, “Sunday Miscellany was the soundtrack to the Sunday morning tasks before church.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own