Radio Review: Ray D’Arcy comes back on air with a frog in his throat, but soon finds his voice – and his persona

The Today FM presenter’s freeranging style works well, but he doesn’t always make the right transition from light to shade

Sat, Aug 10, 2013, 01:00

Never a man shy about speaking his mind, Ray D’Arcy started the week uncharacteristically stuck for words. Given that the August lull is upon us, he could be forgiven for being short of topics, but the problem was more prosaic. Having been away on holidays, the presenter was a bit ring rusty as he settled back into his berth (The Ray D’Arcy Show, Today FM, weekdays), his patter stalling amid attempts to clear his throat. “I haven’t been talking a lot, so I’m just getting my voice back,” he admitted. “So excuse me if I sound a little hem-hem.”

Such moments emphasised how free-ranging talk shows such as D’Arcy’s rely on the confident timbre of the host’s voice, all the more during the news drought of the silly season. As it happened, D’Arcy’s vocal stumble was fleeting, which was lucky, because there were indications that his mind was still elsewhere, as when he contrasted Ireland’s population with that of the UK: 4,500 compared with 60,000, apparently.

But D’Arcy also showed off his ability to move easily between light and shade while maintaining his distinctive persona. On Tuesday he joshed irreverently with the comic actor Adam Sandler before affirming his mutual atheism with the broadcaster and Irish Times columnist Vincent Browne, all the while sounding very much like himself.

The following day D’Arcy attempted an even bigger shift in mood. After an item on Kilkenny being named the friendliest city in Europe, he went on to a discussion about the impact of murder on victims’ families. This time the transition was less successful.

Speaking to John, whose sister Sharon Whelan was murdered along with her daughters Zara and Nadia on Christmas Day in 2008, and Rose, whose daughter Rachel O’Reilly was brutally killed by her husband, Joe, in 2004, the mood was sombre. The guests spoke of the void left by violent bereavement – “It’s like someone turned the colour down on the world,” said John – as well as the ongoing legacy of emotional turmoil, with Rose contrasting her lack of rage with her husband’s “huge issue with anger”.

But the item also had an uneasy undercurrent of prurience, particularly when D’Arcy appeared to milk the anguish. “It’s constantly there,” he remarked at one stage, in regard to his guests’ mental torment. “Is it every hour, every minute?”

The interview was memorable, but, predicated on human interest rather than newsworthiness, it was symptomatic of the seasonal need to grab listeners’ attention however one can. Then again, D’Arcy does that anyway.

Of course, there were news stories to be chewed over last week, most notably the Dublin Bus strike. On Tuesday, with the buses still off the capital’s streets, Joe Duffy invited listeners to opine on the matter on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). But the issue failed to rouse the ding-dong one might have expected from Liveline’s usually splenetic listeners.

As is often the case when his topics are in danger of fizzling out, Duffy took the reins himself, to some effect. Talking to a striking driver named Alan, Duffy made a point of praising the service and staff of Dublin Bus, his urgent tone suggesting he felt strongly on the matter. He then asked Alan if he knew the name of his company boss.

When his guest was momentarily flummoxed, the host archly replied: “I’m not surprised. He’s never on the radio.” In highlighting the lofty media silence of senior management at Dublin Bus during the first half of the week, Duffy came as close to abandoning his default armed neutrality and making a political statement as he has done in a long time.

In case anyone missed Duffy’s point about corporate arrogance, Dublin Bus declined to comment about the Labour Court talks on Wednesday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).

Nor was the transport company the only institution to lose its tongue when faced with troublesome coverage. Tuesday’s edition carried a devastating report by Aisling Kenny on the problems of obtaining discretionary medical cards for children with cancer. Whereas these were previously issued automatically, parents now have to endure a tortuous and uncertain request process, as if they didn’t have enough trauma in their lives.

One mother, Trish, recounted how it took seven months of submitting P60s and credit statements to obtain a card, during which time her teenage daughter had bleeds, clots, a bowel operation and a stroke. Another woman, Antoinette, said that, having received a discretionary card for her son Jamie every year since he was diagnosed with cancer, in 2010, she now had to place a request with the HSE, which generously allowed that it may take her son’s illness into account when dealing with her claim.

In response to the callousness detailed in Kenny’s report, and the anchor Rachel English’s information that there are 20,000 fewer such cards now than three years ago, the HSE issued a bland statement saying the terms of eligibility for discretionary cards had not changed and denying a shift in policy.

In presenting such a damning snapshot of Ireland today, Morning Ireland gave voice to those whom some would prefer not be heard.

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