The west's awake, and Hector doesn't let you forget it
RADIO:Ó hEochagáin pumps city-country divide for all its zany worth with Dubs versus the rest quiz
Last Wednesday, lest you missed it, was World Radio Day, and RTÉ Radio 1 marked it with day-long celebratory inserts by personalities, most of whom you might even have heard of. The singer-songwriter John Spillane marvelled at radio’s ability to take listeners on a “magic carpet ride” to “distant towns and cities”, while Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte praised its superiority at teasing out debate.
But even as radio’s internationalist, socially responsible virtues were being trumpeted, Hector Ó hEochagáin was peddling an altogether different vision of the medium, with parochial concerns and trifling bagatelles the stock in trade of Breakfast with Hector (2FM, weekdays). Broadcasting from Galway – a fact he mentions almost as often as he does his hailing from Navan – Ó hEochagáin has long played up his nonmetropolitan origins as a canny branding strategy, cementing the ratings for his morning slot along the way.
On Wednesday, the presenter, in blatant contravention of the UN’s radio mandate of togetherness and harmony, delighted in exploiting local divisions with his Dubs Versus the Rest of the Country quiz. This week, a Waterford-based Dubliner called Mel was the game’s reigning champion, much to Ó hEochagáin’s theatrically expressed dismay.
When a Mayo-born contestant, Elaine, conceded she had visited the capital a couple of times, the host retorted that “once or twice is enough”. His forays into diverting factoids were similarly rooted in the rural-urban divide. Dave, an exiled Dubliner, phoned in to explain the origin of the terms jackeen and culchie, prompting a rare moment of reflection from Ó hEochagain.
He had refrained from using the word culchie when naming his quiz, he said, in order to be “politically correct and to embrace our northern brothers and sisters”.
In the end, it hardly matters that the content is so whimsical and repetitive. The show’s appeal – or lack thereof – resides in Ó hEochagáin’s personality.
If one can get over his proprietary attitude to his audience (“my soldiers of the dawn”) his hyperactive demeanour can be a welcome antidote to the national gloom. Relentlessly upbeat, he is adept at creating a zippy rapport with his callers, imbuing flimsy topics such as disastrous Valentine’s Day dinners with an infectious air.
An occasional nod to the light and shade of life’s rich pageant wouldn’t go amiss, however. Ó hEochagáin’s show is less like taking a magic carpet ride than hitching a high-speed lift through potholed backroads with a slightly delusional local.
More civic-minded radio was to be found in the nocturnal hours. The Late Debate (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has long been home to the kind of informed discussion so cherished by the likes of Rabbitte, but, as Tuesday’s edition proved, it can also deliver startling revelations.
Dr Katherine O’Donnell, who collected survivors’ stories on behalf of the Justice for Magdalenes campaign, told its presenter, Audrey Carville, that 800 pages of written testimony had effectively been omitted from Senator Martin McAleese’s report on the Catholic Church-run laundries.