David Bowie gets short shrift on 2FM as Eurovision glory beckons

Radio review: Lyric’s schedule is not for moving, while 2FM trumpets Eurovision star Nicky Byrne

David Bowie’s influential recordings were in short supply on Lyric and 2FM. Photograph: EPA/Maurizio Gambarini

David Bowie’s influential recordings were in short supply on Lyric and 2FM. Photograph: EPA/Maurizio Gambarini

 

As a presenter with the challenge of cheering up those souls up and about before 7am, Shay Byrne’s greatest asset is his sanguine affability. As he plays familiar but reliably enjoyable pop and rock on Rising Time (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) his deceptively casual manner is bolstered by a Teflon-like resistance to the grim realities of the world that await listeners outside their door, and indeed on Morning Ireland.

So when Byrne’s larky mood abruptly changes on Monday morning, something is clearly afoot. “Some bad news,” he says. “David Bowie has died.” Byrne’s delivery is uncharacteristically halting. “Sorry, I’m a little put off by this,” he says, before playing the first of the many Bowie songs of the day.

That the death of an ageing, semi-reclusive English musician in New York should so dominate the airwaves is testament to Bowie’s pivotal cultural role, not to mention his place in the hearts of broadcasters of a certain vintage. Hardly a show passes without a lengthy tribute to the late star. Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) gets on the case quickly, with the newspaper reviewer Fiona Kelly telling of the time she interviewed Bowie. Later, Cathal Mac Coille talks to Dave Fanning, who shares stories and opinions that soon become familiar, as the veteran 2FM DJ embarks on a frantic round of appearances on different shows.

Putting in a busy couple of hours on The Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1), Breakfast Republic (2FM) and The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk), Fanning shows off his knowledge of Bowie’s work and his tendency to rabbit on about anything that crosses his mind. Time and again he punctuates his anecdotes about meeting Bowie with diversionary asides, such as jibes about “female PR Nazis” and tales of visiting New York record shops. Any listener flicking through the stations learns a lot about Fanning, if not about Bowie.

There are arresting tributes to be heard, however. Irish guitarist Gerry Leonard, a regular collaborator with the singer, talks to both Tubridy and Kenny about the modest but gifted and wry person he knew. There’s something disarming about Leonard’s information that Bowie would declare “Let’s tart up” before getting into stage gear. Meanwhile, on Morning Ireland, John Kelly highlights not only the singer’s ability to “figure out what the zeitgeist was about to be and then become it himself” but also the androgynous image and ambivalent sexuality that made him an inspiring role model.

This whets the appetite for Kelly’s own show, but there’s an odd scarcity of his music on The JK Ensemble (Lyric FM, weekdays). After opening with the artist’s sombre composition Warszawa, a subdued Kelly sets out his stall. While Bowie’s death is on his mind, the presenter says “once again I have to remind my listeners that this is a classical music station, and I can’t necessarily do what you might think I’m going to do”.

This might sound like carping, but seems indicative of recent developments at Lyric. With the recent axing of distinctive and long-running shows such as Donald Helme’s wide-ranging Jazz Alley and Tim Thurston’s Sunday-morning choral oasis Gloria, the station seems intent on purging any voices or musical styles that won’t soothe a middlebrow, even on the fringes of its schedule. So a dearth of Bowie songs is perhaps telling.

His influential recordings are in similarly short supply on 2FM, where the station sticks to a zingy daytime playlist that regards the turn of the millennium as pop’s year zero. There is something almost refreshing about such a determinedly unsentimental and tightly targeted music policy, or would be, were it not that 2FM’s story of the week concerns the Eurovision ambitions of one of its presenters, the former Westlifer Nicky Byrne.

Wednesday’s announcement that the boyband star was chosen, behind closed doors, by RTÉ executives, to represent Ireland brings forth great excitement from Jenny Greene, the almost equally billed cohost of The Nicky Byrne Show with Jenny Greene (2FM, weekdays). As well it might, for Greene has the show to herself while Byrne pursues his promotional duties.

When he eventually comes in, during the last few minutes, Greene gushes about the greatness of her colleague’s slickly inoffensive song, Sunlight. Just to prove this isn’t mutual backslapping, Greene adds that her partner and her mother love the track. To be fair, however, this is probably a more representative sample of public opinion than RTÉ’s Eurovision selection panel.

Byrne also pops up with Pat Kenny, where he brushes away the host’s half-hearted questions about preferential treatment by RTÉ. Instead, Byrne concentrates on a more pressing issue: the skewing of Eurovision results in recent years by popular voting on national rather than musical grounds. He points the finger at the “newer countries in Europe”, which is certainly one way to describe those pesky arrivistes to the east of the continent. In this light, Bowie seems like a figure from ancient history.

Moment of the Week: Frank exchanges

On Sunday with Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Miriam O’Callaghan is joined by former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery and his brother Tony, a Redemptorist priest, to talk about their lives and occasional tribulations. When O’Callaghan quizzes the former about his clashes with the Dáil’s public accounts committee after his controversial resignation as Rehab’s chief executive, he is bullishly defiant. As her guest berates the committee for “arrogance” and “ignorance”, O’Callaghan sounds an amused note. “He’s off on one,” she says, “this isn’t Prime Time.” It’s a bit rich coming from O’Callaghan – given she hosts both programmes, it’s an easy mistake to make.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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