A year of stale sounds and static schedules on the airwaves
The national commercial sector was not much more dynamic than its RTÉ rivals. At Today FM, the most significant shake-up was behind the scenes, with chief executive Willie O’Reilly decamping to RTÉ, but there was some on-air movement too, with the rapidly rising Keith Cunningham moving to the afternoon on The KC Show.
But the station remained anchored around The Ray D’Arcy Show, which enjoyed a memorable year, due as much to the presenter’s on-air indiscretions – dropping the F-word in an anti-clerical diatribe – as to his increasingly candid editorialising on contentious subjects such as abortion. If D’Arcy consolidated his position as the de-facto inheritor of the late Gerry Ryan’s populist mantle, he still occasionally displays an off-putting streak that limits a broader appeal, seen in the humiliating “vajazzle” ordeal he put his sidekick Mairead Farrell through.
Beside the antics of D’Arcy, Matt Cooper’s style can be quite, well, matt. But his show, The Last Word, provided the most memorable radio moment of the year, namely Gabriel Byrne’s evisceration of the Gathering, when he called the Government’s tourist initiative “a scam”.
Another notable interview, involving Bishop John Kirby’s assertion on Galway Bay FM’s Keith Finnegan Show that paedophilia was “a friendship that crossed a boundary line”, underlined the vibrant state of local radio as a news-gathering force and trusted source. For all the national stations’ dominance of the headlines, regional radio commanded 53 per cent of the nation’s listening time.
Back on the national scene, the arrival of Norah Casey as Ivan Yates’s replacement as co-anchor on Newstalk Breakfast drew attention to the preponderance of men across all the stations. In this context, Radio 1’s Drivetime deserves merit.
Compared with the gripes of George Hook on Newstalk, host Mary Wilson can come across as somewhat schoolmarmish. But she also provides an authoritative presence, as well as a platform for other strong voices, from Olivia O’Leary to health analyst Sara Burke, possibly the most astute radio expert on air. Would that there were the same vibrant diversity across Irish radio. In this respect, as in others, a change is overdue.