TUNE in to Today FM between Sunday and Thursday, any time between 10pm and midnight, and you are likely to hear the madcap antics of ‘The Blast’ with Ray Foley. The show, much like its presenter, can be funny or infuriating, cynical or controversial, downright surreal or completely human. One thing is for sure though - it will always spark a reaction.
Some people love him and some people hate him, but there is no doubt the Ballina man’s career is motoring in the right direction. When the presenters of Today FM’s flagship programmes, broadcasting heavyweights Ian Dempsey and Ray D’Arcy, vacate their seats for holidays, the station looks no further than Foley to fill in. The man himself admits to some serious nerves at first even talking to the two men.
“To be honest when I started working in the station, when I met Ray and Ian I was absolutely shitting it. I mean I grew up watching them both on TV and they have such great careers in broadcasting behind them already,” he said.
The prospect of filling in for them was a nerve-wracking experience, but he was ready for the challenge, “Oh God, yes, I was very nervous. I mean they have such a huge following already and you’re not sure how their listeners will react to you. Thankfully though they both have great production teams working for them, and that makes it easier. In the case of Ray’s show, he has Jenny, Mairead and Will [researchers and producers], working with him, and they are almost as integral to the show as he is. They know what the listeners are looking for so you just let them guide you. Both shows have gone very well when I’ve done them, so I’m fine with doing them now. You have to take a step back and be confident in your own ability. It’s like, I’m doing a show five times a week just like these guys, so technically we’re on the same level, obviously with a little less experience. Anyway I’ll be back on my own show the following week so I don’t care if I mess up,” he adds laughing.
On air Foley can be very bombastic and his shows may resemble organised chaos, but away from the airwaves he is thoughtful, engaging, self-deprecating and, remarkably, quite shy. He is quick-witted and funny and happy in his life. But, he admits, it was not always so. While he regularly returns to Mayo to DJ at major events, he concedes his teenage years in Ballina do not hold the fondest of memories.
“I was very uncomfortable as a teenager, I suppose like a lot of teenagers are, and I never had any confidence in myself. I had a great upbringing but I was never that popular when I was in school, and I did not know an awful lot of people. It’s funny, because anyone who knows my dad, Ray Snr, will tell you how popular he is. He would talk to the wall and has a word for everyone. My brother Morgan is very much the same, and even now when people hear that Ray Foley’s son is ‘your man on the radio’ they instantly assume it is Morgan. No one believes it could be me.”
The catalyst for Ray’s emergence as one of the top radio presenters in the country was his move to Dublin to study journalism in DIT. “I just wanted to get out and I was ready for the move. I always think that maybe had I been happier in school things might not have worked out as well as they did.”
So what led this unassuming, quiet teenager into the field of radio and communications. “I entered the 2fm ‘DJ for a Day’ competition a few years back, and, while I didn’t win it, I did get a taste for it, and that developed in college. When I went to Dublin I started working with some pirate radio stations and from there it kind of took off.”
He believes experience in the business led him to where he is today. “Without a doubt learning the basics at a station is vital to anyone who wants to progress. I worked my way up from the bottom and it’s really helped.”
After stints at East Coast FM, and 98FM, Ray spent three years as a newsreader on Lite FM, before his big break came on Spin 103. “I had heard that this station was coming on air, and so I left Lite and went back doing pirate radio, to get re-acquainted with presenting again. I sent the tapes of my shows to Spin and Liam Thompson, the head of the station, offered me the gig. The programme I did was the drive-time show from six to nine in the evening, and because there was no breakfast show at the time, it meant we were the biggest show.”
After two successful years at the Dublin station, he decided he wanted a change. I was 23 at that stage, and felt if I could I would like a move. I sent tapes to 2FM and Today FM, and Today got in contact, and offered me the job.”
Anyone who is familiar with the show will know that Ray is ably supported on his show by best friend JP Gilbourne. “JP is my best mate and that comes across on the show I think. We started in first year in college together and have been friends ever since. When I was at Spin, I did the show with a female presenter and whenever she was off and we needed cover, we would get JP in. When I decided that I wanted to get someone in with me on my show on Today FM, we got JP in. He is still news reading at Spin as well, but he is a huge help to me, he’s great on the technical side of things.”
The show is one of the most popular in the country amongst teenagers and Ray regularly beats his competition in the ratings. Many radio presenters now have sites on Bebo, the biggest internet site ever to hit the country’s youth. Foley’s page has TWICE as many hits as the combined total of 2FM’s rival presenters. He explains the success is simple. “We never wanted to be a show that just reads out texts ‘Say hello to me, I’m in wherever’. Instead we want to find out more about our listeners. I might talk about what I did during the day and then ask the listeners what they were doing or whatever. Sometimes I’ll say something mean and JP will turn around and act the good guy. People react to that, and they seem to like it. I would never say anything when I was younger but now I will say whatever I want. I think people find that a bit refreshing because they do not hear it in other places.”
Music is an important factor as well in the mix. “Obviously people don’t just want to hear me talk all the time, so we have the music as well. We try and bring into the show music that the listeners might not have heard 15 times during the day already. We are always looking for new music and bring it into the show. Myself and JP have different tastes as well so that helps. And if we don’t like a song we’ll say it. The listeners like that.”
Ray is very content in his own life at the moment, and has recently bought a house with his long-term girlfriend, Kate, who hails from Dublin. She is also involved in radio and was a newsreader on Spin 103 when they first met a few years ago, and is currently with 2FM. “ We get on very well, and are very happy together. We now have a 35-year mortgage together so we better not break up for a while!” he says laughing. “She is way out of my league, which is great, but it’s working,” he adds modestly.
As to the future, the young man is in no rush to get ahead of himself. “In the past couple of weeks I’ve just started getting ideas about doing an afternoon show, or something along those lines. But I’m only 25 years old so I have plenty of time. I‘m very happy where I am at the moment.”