No women need apply as Ivan Yates brings manly swagger to Sundays

Newstalk adds more middle-aged male voices to its roster in the form of Yates and Bobby Kerr, but the formula is wearing thin

Ivan Yates: without a cohost, his outrage seems staged and his sense of humour loses its sparkle. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ivan Yates: without a cohost, his outrage seems staged and his sense of humour loses its sparkle. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Say what you like about Newstalk’s schedule, it has the virtue of consistency. Already possessing an overwhelmingly middle-aged and male roster of weekday presenters, the station has revamped its Sunday line-up by adding Ivan Yates and Bobby Kerr, both of whom are, well, middle-aged and male.

In fairness, the presenters in question have assets beyond their age and gender. In his previous role as co-anchor of Newstalk Breakfast, Yates was one of the station’s most popular broadcasters. So, on the face of things, his return to air as the host of Yates on Sunday (Newstalk) seems like a sensible move,, if hardly a radical one.

Certainly, the show sticks to the familiar weekend magazine format: there’s a panel discussion on the Sunday papers, a big-name interview and an extended sport segment. But then it’s the host, rather than the formula or even the guests, who is expected to deliver the fireworks. Yates, a man who seemingly never lacks a strong opinion on anything, opens by declaring, “I’ve a few things to get off my chest.”

Stephen Donnelly, characteristically, sounds patronising towards those who disagree with him: “If you don’t think it’s clear, I can explain it to you”

It starts off promisingly enough, as he jousts with serial party switcher Stephen Donnelly, currently a Fianna Fáil TD. Yates, a former Fine Gael minister, is characteristically impatient with Fianna Fáil’s ambivalent support of the Government; Donnelly, equally characteristically, sounds patronising towards those who disagree with him: “If you don’t think it’s clear, I can explain it to you.”

But, disappointingly, that’s pretty much the extent of the sparks. There’s the odd misstep, as when Yates suggests that the Government should help put Britain’s Brexit case to the EU. “Are we an Anglo advocate?” he asks of Fine Gael chief whip Regina Doherty. “We are an Irish advocate,” comes the pithy rejoinder. 

There are also the mandatory forays into attention-grabbing rhetoric. “My submission is that new politics is a total disaster,” Yates says, pointing to “the worst Dáil and weakest Government in 40 years”. Whatever the truth of this assertion, it’s greeted with a collective shrug by the panellists as just another indignant outburst from Yates. (Pub bores also encounter this problem of diminishing impact.)

A more collegiate atmosphere prevails during his interview with Michael O’Leary. The Ryanair chief executive is as gregariously provocative as ever, taking aim at RTÉ while saying the solution to the Bus Éireann strike is “to privatise the whole thing”. Yates, by and large, seems to agree with O’Leary and clearly enjoys his company, so the conversation is chummy rather than charged. When Yates starts to chat at length about his guest’s horseracing interests, even O’Leary sounds perplexed. “This is going to bore all your listeners,” he says. “It doesn’t bore me,” replies the host, adding that, after all, “This is called ‘Yates on Sunday’.”

Therein lies the problem. In his previous role, Yates was at his best when sparring with cohost Chris Donoghue. They may have been opposites temperamentally and politically, but they had an on-air chemistry that made for stimulating, entertaining and funny radio. Here Yates has the field to himself, but without anyone to bounce off, his outrage seems staged and his sense of humour loses its sparkle. Whatever the reasons, his return to radio is less a wake-up call than a lazy Sunday slumber.

Kerr keeps its positive

Bobby Kerr, meanwhile, has merely expanded his weekend presence. Already the host of Down to Business on Saturdays, the entrepreneur-turned-broadcaster now adds Bobby’s Late Breakfast (Newstalk, Sunday) to his portfolio. Kerr states that the new show is more culturally focused than its business-oriented companion, but it shares the same cheerfully upbeat atmosphere. “Keep it positive” is his motto.

Not everyone on the programme is as buoyant. Comedian Karl Spain sounds positively bleary as he talks on the phone: he says he had been at a Munster rugby match the night before, perhaps by way of mitigation. Kerr also hears from TV chef Catherine Fulvio on how to cook the perfect brunch: that the show’s only female guest is there to do the cooking sends out an unfortunate message, even if it’s unintentional. 

Ben Dunne: mixes candour about the traumatic aftermath of his 1981 kidnapping with shaky rationales for staying in a golf club that bars women as members. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Ben Dunne: mixes candour about the aftermath of his 1981 kidnapping with shaky rationales for staying in a golf club that bars women as members. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Kerr then interviews the singularly straight-talking Ben Dunne, who mixes candour about the traumatic aftermath of his 1981 kidnapping (“I didn’t realise the scarring that took place on my brain”) with shaky rationales for staying in a golf club that bars women as members (“I can’t change the rules”). Throughout all this, Kerr retains an easy familiarity with Dunne, which is reciprocated. Dunne chuckles at meeting Kerr and Yates just before the show, describing the scene as “a room of rogues”.

The appealing, affable Kerr in particular gives reason for optimism

It’s a phrase that captures the prevailing atmosphere of the new, even more manly Sundays on Newstalk. It’s undeniably larky and sometimes engaging, but assumes the audience has an outlook of the swaggering male variety, especially on Yates’s part. The scheduling also implies that there’s no point courting female listeners while Marian Finucane and Miriam O’Callaghan have their Sunday morning slots on RTÉ Radio 1. As well as being a reductive notion, this represents a missed opportunity. (As a middle-aged male, I’m aware I may be thin ice here.)

Still, it’s early days. The appealing, affable Kerr in particular gives reason for optimism. Having promised that he’s going to get his chest waxed live on air, Kerr has to delay it for a week. The postponed waxing item highlights an imaginative approach to radio, also evident on his other show. Here’s hoping he goes through with it, if only to demonstrate there’s more than one way to get things off your chest.

Radio Moment of the Week: Tubridy’s giant glitch

It’s off to the Giant’s Causeway with Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), who visits Co Antrim’s natural wonder to bring us soft-focus interviews fit for a tourist brochure. But the show highlights the perils of broadcasting from a windswept location. His opening speech is obliterated by bloops and bleeps, before the sound cuts out during conversations: in the end, Aonghus McAnally has to step in to play music from a Dublin studio. As the link is re-established with Tubridy, he can be heard muttering “disaster”. It is indeed one of those days.

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