Billy McCarthy (1954-2016)
Waterford city and county is mourning the loss of WLRfm presenter Billy McCarthy, who died on Sunday morning at the age of 61 following a short illness. Survived by his partner Des O’Keeffe, mother Kay, brothers Declan, Ronan, sister Celine and his work family at WLR, Billy was, unquestionably ‘The Voice of Waterford’, having presented the flagship ‘Deise AM’ show since 1989.
While still serving in the Priesthood, Billy first took to the WLR airwaves back in its pirate days, presenting ‘The Good News Programme’ between 1983 and 1988, and later served as the Station’s Programme Director from 1989 to 2014.
For an entire generation of Waterfordians, Billy gave voice to the local, national and international issues of the day through Deise AM, and was, as colleague Michael Byrne put in Monday, “a national broadcaster working on a regional station”. His loss is incalculable, and it is scarcely believable that his remains will be laid to rest this (Tuesday) afternoon following Requiem Mass in Tramore.
“Billy was a much loved friend and colleague of all of us here at WLRfm,” said Managing Director and lifelong friend Des Whelan. “His untimely death is a huge loss not just to our listeners but to all of us who had the fortune to work with him for many years.” Mr Whelan added: “Billy and I first met when we were teenagers, even at that young age he was always listening to music and practising how to be a radio presenter.
“He was very proud to have the opportunity to be a part of RTE’s schedule when the national station’s community service first started broadcasting in Waterford in the 1970s. Billy’s friends and colleagues at WLRfm and everyone at the Broadcast Centre are all shocked and deeply saddened by his passing. To his listenership, for whom to many, Billy was an integral part of their daily lives.”
WLRfm, which opened a Book of Condolences at the Broadcast Centre on Sunday morning, has been inundated with messages of sympathy and support since news of Billy’s death broke. “The reaction has been unprecedented,” Michael Byrne added. “It just goes to show how loved and respected Billy was…
“He had a great passion for radio, he loved Waterford and most of all loved broadcasting to Waterford and beyond every morning.”
A litany of tributes for Billy McCarthy
The general public remains reeling in shock following the sudden death of Waterford’s best known broadcaster, Billy McCarthy, who passed away in hospital on Sunday morning last.
Tributes at a level never before received by WLRfm continue to pour in this week for the man described by many as ‘The Voice of Waterford’.
Speaking on a special edition of Deise AM on Monday morning, WLR’s Managing Director Des Whelan said he had never before experienced anything like the sense of loss that had permeated the local community since news of Billy’s death broke.
“He was a wonderful person with so many talents,” he told Maria McCann. “I’ve known Billy since I was 13 or 14. When all the young lads were out playing football on the green, I have vivid memories of him practicing being Terry Wogan in his front room! He was a brilliant broadcaster and an integral part of the station.”
Billy first presented ‘The Good News Programme’ on Saturday mornings on the then WLR pirate station from 1983 to 1988.
On obtaining a licence, Billy took over the Deise AM slot between 10am and 12noon in December 1989 after making the decision to leave the priesthood.
“Leaving the priesthood was a very brave decision at the time but I was absolutely thrilled that he came to work for me.”
Councillor Mary Roche (Ind) worked with Billy for six years during her tenure at WLR. “I would have known him for a long time outside of work as he was so involved in the arts. He was also a champion Irish dancer, people mightn’t know that.”
She added that Waterford had lost a great champion. “He was Deise to the core. The white and blue ran in his blood.” Cllr Roche continued that he wore his heart on his sleeve and was absolutely delighted when result of the recent Equality Referendum.
“He was front of centre of that campaign and he was thrilled with the outcome. By the same token he was very upset about Trump. He just couldn’t understand it.”
Local priest Father Liam Power was ordained alongside Billy in 1980 and described him as the life and soul of Maynooth. “He was an extraordinary talent and had such a great sense of compassion that he carried with him even after he left the Ministry,” he stated. “He continued to create a sense of community and he gave the people of Waterford a voice that they would not have had otherwise.”
WLRfm Programme Director Michael Byrne who worked closely with Billy for the past 15 years described him as a “superstar”. “I was wowed by him the first time I met him when I came in looking for work experience. He was an outstanding broadcaster of the same calibre as Gay Byrne, Terry Wogan and Pat Kenny. He was effectively a national broadcaster working in a local radio station and we were very lucky to have him.”
Actress and broadcaster Carrie Crowley was a lifelong friend of Billy’s. “He was such good fun. He loved the Eurovision and when I presented the Eurovision we had great craic. He loved the Eurovision. The thing about him was you could be hooting with laughter one minute and then you’d be discussing something of great depth.”
Local playwright Jim Nolan said he first knocked on Billy’s door looking for publicity 30 years ago. “He loved theatre and we depended on him utterly, not just people in the arts but everybody, to give us a voice.”
Billy McCarthy’s Requiem Mass takes place at 1pm today (Tuesday) at the Holy Cross Church, Tramore, followed by burial afterwards in Saint Declan’s Cemetery, Riverstown. Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis
A compassionate man and great ambassador
John Halligan TD
It is with the deepest sadness that I have learned of the death of Billy McCarthy.
Billy truly was the ‘Voice of Waterford’, a deeply compassionate broadcaster who put callers and listeners at ease the minute he switched on the microphone; and a wonderful ambassador who never missed an opportunity to ‘talk up’ his city and county.
An incisive interviewer, Billy was never afraid to put the ‘difficult’ questions to politicians. The consensus has always been that ‘Billy would not let you away with anything’ – and proper order! Moreover, Billy was a champion of his listeners – they trusted him to get to the kernel of the issue and, as his listenership figures testify, he never let them down.
Through Deise AM, he shone a light on thousands of issues affecting his native Waterford and, regardless of his personal beliefs, gave equal air time to all sides of the story. Indeed, the one thing he would not tolerate on his show was intolerance.
Billy’s death is a huge loss to Waterford and I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to Billy’s partner Des, his mother Kay, his sister Celine, brothers Declan and Ronan and his extended family, friends and his colleagues at WLRfm.
A Giant of Local Journalism
City & County Mayor Adam Wyse
I remember sitting in my car in the WIT car park at about 10:15am, extremely nervous about going on Deise AM with Billy McCarthy for the first time.
I was still new to politics at the time – and everything that comes with it. I was told Billy was tough and hard hitting but also very upfront. I didn’t know what to expect from this giant of local journalism, the voice of a city and county.
To no surprise to anyone, that time and every time I was a guest on the show thereafter, Billy was nothing less than a gentleman, someone who would always give a little word of advice before the red on air light flashed on.
The day after I became Mayor, I was scheduled to be on Billy’s show at 10am. I was awake at 6am to prepare because of the respect I had for the show, Billy’s credentials and his listeners. Plus, as anyone who was ever on his show would know, Billy, like any good journalist always had something up his sleeve to ask you about that you couldn’t possibly prepare for. He simply kept you on your toes every time he was around.
One of few times I met Billy outside of work was the day after the Marriage Equality Referendum. It was a sunny day in Tramore, May 24th 2015. I parked on the prom and got out and immediately spotted Billy and his partner Des walking, 99s in hands and a huge smile spread across their faces. I shook their hands and Billy instantly said “isn’t it great, the world just got a little bit nicer”.
Well, on Sunday last, that world has lost a friend, a partner, a son and a local legend. Billy, it was an honour to work with you. I will sincerely miss your take on all things Waterford. To your partner Des and your extended family I offer my extended sympathies. Thank you for everything, Billy.
John Deasy salutes a “brilliant broadcaster”
Deputy John Deasy (FG) has paid tribute to the immense contribution made by the late broadcaster Billy McCarthy to the coverage of current and cultural affairs in Waterford. “I knew Billy had been battling a serious recent illness but the news of his passing has still come as a terrible shock.
“Billy was a brilliant broadcaster, on a par with the best on the national airwaves. His flagship Deise AM programme was essential listening over a long period, and he will be a significant loss to, not just WLR, but Waterford life in general. I extend my sincere condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.”
Billy was sharp, witty and talented
David Cullinane TD
When you think WLRfm, you think Billy McCarthy. He was a tremendous broadcaster and a great interviewer. He was sharp, witty and talented. He was robust when he had to be but always fair.
He loved Waterford. His pride for his county was unquestionable and he affectionately became known as ‘the Voice of Waterford’. But in truth he gave a voice and a platform to ordinary people. His show was about them.
He celebrated Waterford’s sporting achievements with gusto and with an infectious pride. He was his own person with his own views.
In this time of so called ‘post truth’ he would have no truck. The truth and facts mattered and were central to his work. He challenged bigotry and hatred. He was decent and this shone through in each and every interview.
I will miss him greatly. I will miss our private conversations as well as our robust interviews. He loved life and he loved his partner, his family and his friends and they him. Waterford has lost a true talent. May he rest in peace.
A man who broke down many barriers
Mary Butler TD
When I heard over the last week that Billy McCarthy was unwell, and in hospital, I hoped and prayed that he would be back on the airwaves holding us all to account in no time.
Unfortunately, waking yesterday morning to hear the news that Billy had died was devastating. Billy and I first met in the early 80s in Portlaw where he served as a curate.
He helped to found the Portlaw Folk Group and, to this day, whenever I hear the song, ‘American Pie’, I think of Billy who always sang it as his party piece. The Folk Group is still going strong, and still singing at mass, and that is down, in no small part, to Billy.
When I think of Billy, of course I am overcome by sadness, but equally of pride. Billy achieved a lot in his 62 years, and broke many barriers. To leave the priesthood in the 1980s, to come out and speak openly about being gay, to become part and parcel of the success that WLR became.
On their own, each would be recognised as being brave. Yet Billy did them all and more. He showed bravery throughout his entire life. Sometimes we forget that Ireland, in the 1980s and 1990s was a very conservative country.
During the campaign for Marriage Equality last years, Billy showed an incredible amount of dignity. I was struck by how dignified Billy was when he appeared on Tonight with Vincent Brown and said “why should I not have Jesus in my life because I’m gay.” For me, he exemplified the innate decency of Ireland.
Going through the many text conversations I had with Billy, I found the one from the day of the count, May 23rd 2015. I had texted him to congratulate him on the result. I knew what it meant to him.
His reply was typical of Billy – he told me he was “bawling” all day and that “aren’t the young people of Ireland great?”
Billy was a tough interviewer, but he was always fair. He was on top of his brief, and he would never let you get away with not knowing your facts and figures.
When I decided to run for the Council, Billy brought me onto the show to talk about the need for grants for houses with thatched rooves.
I was incredibly nervous, and, in hindsight, somewhat afraid. It was my first interview. Billy could see that I was nervous. He could have ended my political career before it even started by going hard on me, but he didn’t. For that alone, I will never be able to thank him enough.
Sleep well, Billy. Your legacy will live on forever, and you will never be forgotten.
“A huge talent gone too soon.”
Beat 102-103 Chief Executive Gabrielle Cummins has extended her sympathy to the loved ones of the late Billy McCarthy. “Billy was a mentor to many of us and happily shared his vast expertise with all of us at Beat when we were starting out in 2003. He loved the excitement of getting to know lots of new young radio talent.
He is a huge loss not just to our sister station WLRfm but to broadcasting in general in Ireland. I know there are also thousands of listeners across Waterford and beyond who are absolutely devastated by this news. There was, without doubt, only one Billy McCarthy.”
Beat’s Head of Station Sound Niall Power said “When I returned to my home city of Waterford in 2003 to launch my on-air career in speech broadcasting, Billy showed nothing but support and friendship. The ultimate professional who could show incredible empathy with listeners and five minutes later tear a Government minister apart. Billy has done Waterford City and County some incredible service.”