Dunne and dusted, Tom clears his daytime desk in familiar style
The Newstalk presenter remained amiable as ever but proved an unexpected champion of public broadcasting
1Emotive': Newstalk host Tom Dunne. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.
Returning from his holidays for the last few shows before the big upheaval, Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) admitted to feeling “emotive” but put a brave face on the matter. “May I just say before we start back that I have no complaints on the summer front,” Dunne said. But what initially sounded like a magnanimous pronouncement on losing his midmorning slot to Pat Kenny merely turned out to be a comment on the weather: “That was one of the best summers in living memory.”
If Dunne felt bruised about recent developments, he wasn’t minded to reveal it, at least not openly. In general he seemed determined to see out his stint in the same way he had always conducted it, full of easy familiarity and top-heavy with light human-interest subjects.
On Tuesday, as he spoke to researcher Claire Collins about his topics du jour – whether his listeners had used secondhand books at school, or whether they ever had an unusual pet – it appeared clear why Dunne was regarded as the weak spot in Newstalk’s daytime line-up. He sounded most at ease when chatting about inconsequential subjects. After Collins revealed that her cousin had once owned a tarantula, the host went off on a riff about aging arachnids. “Do tarantulas get old?” he mused, chuckling at the idea.
But the more the programme trundled along in this fashion the more one wondered whether Dunne’s fans will stick around when he is gone. The current audience hovers around 50,000, a small number in national terms but too big to be lightly discarded by a commercial station. For all the talk of Kenny taking listeners from RTÉ, those who enjoy Dunne’s amiably free-associating and self-deprecating style may migrate away from his earnest replacement.
He was not all compliant affability. On Wednesday, during a raucous conversation about middle age with his fellow Newstalk presenter Dil Wickremasinghe, he was asked where he would be at the same time the following week. “In bed, listening to the radio,” he said, pointedly. On another occasion, when the question of the proposed new broadcasting charge arose, Dunne vociferously supported to the idea, seeing it as a modern measure for a modern era.
“You need to pay for content,” he said. “And in that is [the question] do you want a national broadcaster? And, yeah, I do.” Such institutions, he felt, separated countries with an independent press from those without. It was a heartfelt and considered defence of media content’s value in general and public-service broadcasting in particular. Or maybe Dunne was just sending an SOS signal to RTÉ.
Either way, he made a better fist at selling the mooted broadcasting charge than Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, whose appearance on Tuesday’s Morning Ireland (RTE Radio 1, weekdays) was a model of lofty pomposity and disingenuousness. Interviewed by Gavin Jennings, the Minister spoke about the need to combat evasion and to iron out the odd “serious anomaly”.