Chewing on the hand that feeds
RADIO REVIEW:EVEN BY RTÉ’S prodigious standards of self-promotion, a radio interview plugging a television programme about Ireland’s favourite paintings might seem like the epitome of cosy corporate cheerleading, not least because of the obvious disadvantage the visual medium poses for listeners. But when, on Wednesday, Mike Murphy appeared on Today with Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to talk about Masterpiece, his art programme for RTÉ television, backslapping was not on the agenda.
Murphy’s idea of multiplatform synergy, it seemed, was to use as many media as possible to criticise RTÉ. Having written to this newspaper to complain about his show’s late time slot, he then took to the radio to deride the network. Though he was happy with the programme and its impact, the veteran presenter still had gripes about the national broadcaster, which he gleefully aired.
He warmed up by saying there were “a lot of nervous nellies” around Montrose who would be “quaking in their shoes” about what he might say, before reiterating his annoyance that RTÉ, despite its stated commitment to the arts, broadcast his programme after a current-affairs programme.
“I know this is your baby,” Murphy said to Kenny, “but, Pat, the truth of the matter is, whether you like it or not, that much of the current-affairs output in RTÉ, as in many other stations, is fifth-rate radio on television”. Clearly, he was not auditioning for a position in RTÉ’s PR department. Warming to his theme, he decried the prevalence of news programming at peak viewing hours, saying it was “damaging the national psyche”.
Murphy delivered his broadside in signature style, with his languid tone punctuated by his clubbable laugh, but it was a bracingly candid tirade, even if mocking RTÉ’s beleaguered current-affairs department is not quite the bold move it might once have been. (He also seemed to derive some enjoyment from discomfiting Kenny, gently goading him over his stewardship of referendum-treaty debates.) Murphy’s irritation about tokenistic culture programming was palpable, however.
His appearance was also a reminder of what radio audiences have missed since he relinquished stewardship of The Arts Show, a decade or so ago. Championing the work of the abstract painter Sean Scully, Murphy said that, as in music, some visual artists must go to the extremes to create. “It’s like Miles Davis doing Kind of Blue: he’s gone off somewhere else but is still doing music.”
It was an imaginative yet accessible way of describing abstract art’s power for the casual listener, displaying an assured popular touch that is too often lacking in current radio arts output. As the item ended, Kenny had the relieved air of someone taking leave of an ornery old acquaintance, thanking his guest for “getting us all into trouble again”. Murphy should come out retirement more often.
Saturday found The Marian Finucane Show (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday) talking to another figure who has been out the public eye since leaving his previous high-profile position, though there has not been much of a clamour for the return of Seán Haughey since he lost his Dáil seat last year. The son of the disgraced late taoiseach Charles Haughey, and a junior minister in Brian Cowen’s disastrous government, the former Fianna Fáil TD might appear to have two formidable strikes against him, but he was a likable and even sympathetic guest.