Dunne and dusted, Tom clears his daytime desk in familiar style

The Newstalk presenter remained amiable as ever but proved an unexpected champion of public broadcasting

1Emotive': Newstalk host Tom Dunne. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

1Emotive': Newstalk host Tom Dunne. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Sat, Aug 31, 2013, 01:00

Returning from his holidays for the last few shows before the big upheaval, Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) admitted to feeling “emotive” but put a brave face on the matter. “May I just say before we start back that I have no complaints on the summer front,” Dunne said. But what initially sounded like a magnanimous pronouncement on losing his midmorning slot to Pat Kenny merely turned out to be a comment on the weather: “That was one of the best summers in living memory.”

If Dunne felt bruised about recent developments, he wasn’t minded to reveal it, at least not openly. In general he seemed determined to see out his stint in the same way he had always conducted it, full of easy familiarity and top-heavy with light human-interest subjects.

On Tuesday, as he spoke to researcher Claire Collins about his topics du jour – whether his listeners had used secondhand books at school, or whether they ever had an unusual pet – it appeared clear why Dunne was regarded as the weak spot in Newstalk’s daytime line-up. He sounded most at ease when chatting about inconsequential subjects. After Collins revealed that her cousin had once owned a tarantula, the host went off on a riff about aging arachnids. “Do tarantulas get old?” he mused, chuckling at the idea.

But the more the programme trundled along in this fashion the more one wondered whether Dunne’s fans will stick around when he is gone. The current audience hovers around 50,000, a small number in national terms but too big to be lightly discarded by a commercial station. For all the talk of Kenny taking listeners from RTÉ, those who enjoy Dunne’s amiably free-associating and self-deprecating style may migrate away from his earnest replacement.

He was not all compliant affability. On Wednesday, during a raucous conversation about middle age with his fellow Newstalk presenter Dil Wickremasinghe, he was asked where he would be at the same time the following week. “In bed, listening to the radio,” he said, pointedly. On another occasion, when the question of the proposed new broadcasting charge arose, Dunne vociferously supported to the idea, seeing it as a modern measure for a modern era.

“You need to pay for content,” he said. “And in that is [the question] do you want a national broadcaster? And, yeah, I do.” Such institutions, he felt, separated countries with an independent press from those without. It was a heartfelt and considered defence of media content’s value in general and public-service broadcasting in particular. Or maybe Dunne was just sending an SOS signal to RTÉ.

Either way, he made a better fist at selling the mooted broadcasting charge than Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, whose appearance on Tuesday’s Morning Ireland (RTE Radio 1, weekdays) was a model of lofty pomposity and disingenuousness. Interviewed by Gavin Jennings, the Minister spoke about the need to combat evasion and to iron out the odd “serious anomaly”.

If you were the owner of “six chalets in Co Clare” you had to have six licences, he said, whereas “the hotel up the road with 600 rooms” only had to pony up for one. “There has to be some sort of proportionality,” the Minister purred, as though his measure addressed a burning grievance of chalet owners everywhere rather than being yet another way to extract more taxes.

When Jennings asked what the situation would be if householders said they had no television or smartphone, the Minister’s answer was even more jawdropping. “I don’t believe we have cavemen in the country who don’t watch television or access content on an iPad.” He then gave a well-reasoned argument why public-service broadcasting needed such a new charge, but it came too late for those who had already hefted their radio across the room in annoyance.

Those who self-consciously identify themselves as members of the “squeezed middle” may have been cheered by the reappearance last week of The David Harvey Show (4FM, weekdays). A businessman and chairman of the National Library of Ireland as well as being a broadcaster, Harvey has a well-rounded background but handles his afternoon phone-in show with the heightened bonhomie and slightly offended right-of-centre political views of a regional sales rep unwinding with a client after closing a deal.

On Tuesday, discussing a report by the Citizens Information Board that claimed “welfare traps” were holding some back from taking jobs, Harvey mixed informed questions and a sympathetic attitude with the odd alarming broadside. He said Ireland was close to becoming “a communist state” in promoting benefits over entrepreneurship, a claim that may have been unsurprising to dissidents languishing in our secret gulags but came as news to the rest of us.

But such provocative moments were outnumbered by displays of the calm of a presenter seeking a broad audience. When Mike, an unemployed butcher, asserted he couldn’t get work in a local processing plant because it was “full of Brazilians”, his host quickly reprimanded him.

Harvey’s moderation was admirable, but it also meant that his conversations rarely caught fire, particularly as many of his callers made the average Liveline guest sound like Cicero. Playing to the middle has its price.

Moment of the Week
On Wednesday the opening news bulletin of Morning Ireland was airing a clip of the UN envoy to Syria when it was drowned out by welling orchestral strings, followed by the dramatic singing of Shirley Bassey. This bizarre interruption continued for a minute before Brian Jennings, the newscaster, regained control. Admitting he had no idea what had happened, he apologised and calmly said, “I think we should get on with the news.” Given Jennings’s unflappable demeanour, the offending song had an apposite title: The Performance of My Life.


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