Colm Hayes boldly goes where Ryan Tubridy is too meek to explore

The 2FM jocks played their listeners against each other, with wildly different results

Sat, Apr 20, 2013, 06:00

Divide and conquer. From rabble-rousing politicians to radio talk-show hosts, exploiting the differences within society has long been a reliable tactic for the ambitious demagogue aiming to assert his authority. So, with the issues of gay marriage and public-sector pay reopening social and economic fissures around the country, one could hardly blame Ryan Tubridy (2FM, weekdays) for getting in the swing of things and playing his listeners off against each other.

Flagging the imminent face-off at the start of Wednesday’s programme, Tubridy did his best impression of an MC at a prizefight. “It’s tweed against tassles,” he declaimed. Yes, the big question on the plushly remunerated presenter’s flagship show was whether the audience would prefer him to play a record by the Britpop fogeys Pulp or the country-lite singer Shania Twain.

One wondered whether Tubridy was indulging in a perverse act of self-sabotage, so desperately anodyne was it. The problem lay not necessarily with the good-natured and gently wisecracking host but with the material he covered: it never came close to pushing him out of his comfort zone. In a week when the changing nature of the family in Ireland was firmly in the headlines, Tubridy chose to focus on the experience of being a step-parent, something that affects many people but is hardly a hot-button topic.

Accordingly, his discussion with Maia Dunphy was full of diverting personal anecdote but lacked bite or spice, like polite conversation at afternoon tea. Even when he tackled a news story, in the form of the Boston Marathon bombing, he was trading in an issue on which there was virtual unanimity of sentiment. Still, at least Pulp won out over Shania.

Tubridy seemed more like a warm-up act for Colm Hayes (2FM, weekdays), who tapped into the national mood to spiky and occasionally enlightening effect. Following the constitutional convention’s vote in favour of same-sex marriage, Hayes canvassed opinions to gauge whether the result reflected public attitudes. “Are you the 79 per cent or 21 per cent?” he asked, referring to the outcome at the convention.

The exchanges that followed were split on predictable lines of age and belief but were no less rousing for that. Helen, an older-sounding caller, did not think that any amendment would be passed, because “people recognise marriage is about procreation and there is no procreation in homosexuality”. It was unfair, she said, for children to be brought up by gay couples, as “variety” was important to their development. Unable to present proof of this when asked by Hayes, Helen cited the Bible to back up her assertion that same-sex matrimony was “not a natural situation”.

Hayes was respectful of Helen’s sincere convictions but more combative with Jane, whose notions were altogether more lurid. She predicted that legalisation of same-sex marriage would lead to incestuous unions being allowed. “Once you open the floodgates on this carry-on, it’ll go crazy,” she said, adding, “these gay people want everything.” The conversation ended with Jane claiming that Hayes was promoting “gay”, causing the presenter to splutter that he merely had a particular opinion on the issue. Judging by the results of a text poll, it was one shared by most of his listeners.

Hayes showed a deft talent for mining the national mood for spirited debate. Though he still occasionally betrays a daytime jock’s propensity for faux-profundity – “Austerity can only work when the people enforcing it don’t see the effect,” he earnestly mused on Wednesday – he has made quite a transition from his original incarnation as a zany breakfast host.

On Tuesday, the late-night phone-in host Niall Boylan (4FM, weekdays) hosted a rambunctious squabble – debate is too genteel a term – on the rejection of an extended Croke Park deal by public-sector unions. A presenter who thrives on positing loaded questions and prodding sensitive pressure points, Boylan has a talent for generating on-air heat that is by turns awe- inspiring, reprehensible and guiltily entertaining.

With the patter of a street trader and the populist opportunism of a tabloid columnist, Boylan primed the debate. While he hated the idea of austerity cuts – “Like everybody else, I wish I wasn’t living in this kip of a country” – he also asked if public-sector workers were right to “basically hold everyone else to ransom”.

Given the after-hours ambience, some responses were surprisingly cogent. Others lived up to type. One caller, Alan, profanely railed against the public service, stating they had voted to protect their bosses’s privileges; when another caller disagreed, he responded with a succession of colourful insults. Still, he was the very model of Socratic dialogue compared with Jimmy, who ranted that the country’s ills were due to the “militant atheism” of politicians and, yep, the media.

The more heated things got, the less the presenter could hide his delight, with good reason: the exchange was as mesmerising as it was unhinged. Boylan’s ability to manufacture conflict played to baser instincts, but it was effective. Sometimes it pays to stir things up.

Moment of the Week
Umbilical talk strikes a not-so-spiritual cord

A strong stomach was needed during an item about “lotus births” on Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays). Sean Moncrieff spoke to Mary Ceallaigh about the practice of keeping a baby’s umbilical cord intact after birth, so it remains attached to the placenta. It is, apparently, a custom valued in “tribal cultures”; Ceallaigh said it could make mother and child aware of their “emotional bodies”.

“An awful lot of people are texting in, and they’re not feeling very spiritual about this,” said Moncrieff. “The general reaction is ‘yuck’.”