Radio: 2FM serves up another unappetising breakfast

‘Breakfast Republic’, the RTÉ station’s new morning show, is as forced as it is unfunny. Its presenters, Bernard O’Shea, Jennifer Maguire and Keith Walsh, could learn a thing or two from Pat Kenny, who’s showing that an old hand can thrive in new places

Falling short: Bernard O’Shea, Jennifer Maguire and Keith Walsh of Breakfast Republic

Falling short: Bernard O’Shea, Jennifer Maguire and Keith Walsh of Breakfast Republic

Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 01:00

As the show in the vanguard of the revolutionary makeover under way at 2FM, Breakfast Republic (weekdays) carries an unfair burden of expectation but still falls magnificently short of one’s slightest hopes.

Arriving with a brief to attract the urban listeners who eluded the station’s previous morning presenter, Hector Ó hEochagáin, Bernard O’Shea, Jennifer Maguire and Keith Walsh set about their task so frantically and witlessly that they come across as puerile ingenues rather than the saviours of RTÉ’s troubled music station.

After a half-hearted proclamation of the Republic – “This is going to be great, isn’t it?” says Walsh, opening Monday’s inaugural edition – the prevailing tone is struck early on, as Maguire complains knowingly that her boyfriend is “always playing with it”. His iPad, that is. Thus begins a new dawn at 2FM.

From there the programme is littered with similar tropes from the tittering-schoolboy lexicon. There’s “Keith’s Cock”, a competition where listeners have to guess a song being rendered in the style of a rooster. Or “Jen’s Lady Bits”, where Maguire vents about whatever is annoying her, with the emphasis falling on the B-listers she encounters in her other role as a “celebrity reporter”. On Tuesday she takes a pop at the English singer Paloma Faith for asking who she was, only for Maguire to end up sounding more petty than her supposedly petulant target.

The banter is as unfunny as it is desperately overeager. “Men are crap,” opines Maguire. “Are you doing anything absolutely mad today?” asks ker-azee Keith of a listener. It’s akin to being stuck beside a bunch of giddy young office workers on a Friday-evening drinking session.

And there’s an awkward, forced quality to the interaction between the presenters. Even allowing that the show’s zoo-radio format is not aimed at staid Morning Ireland listeners, Breakfast Republic lacks the zippy chemistry that underpins similarly pitched shows such as Dermot and Dave (98FM, weekdays).

O’Shea and Maguire may have been parachuted in from RTÉ Two’s hit Republic o f Telly , but what works well in a weekly half-hour television show does not automatically translate into two hours of daily radio, even with the addition of Walsh (aka “the other guy”), a former Phantom FM presenter.

It’s early days, of course, and the show has the odd potentially redeeming element, notably the lugubrious O’Shea, whose free-associating flights of fancy provide rare bright spots, such as his riff about holding a fashion week for weatherproof clothes in Roscommon. That most of O’Shea’s humour revolves around the vagaries of country life says it all about a misfiring show charged with winning over the coveted Dublin listenership.

Six months after its first edition, The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) may not have elicited the mass migration of listeners from RTÉ that some expected, but the presenter has carved out a subtly different groove for himself. He has an ease and freshness lacking from his latter days at Montrose, as though liberated from the constraints of public-service broadcasting. No longer obliged to toggle between opposing voices for balance, Kenny has more freedom to let individuals express themselves.

On Tuesday his interview with the security analyst Tom Clonan about the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission bugging affair ends stirringly, with the guest saying that journalists belittling the allegations need to decide whether to act as “an echo chamber for establishment spin” or to “hold those in power to account”.

But connoisseurs of Kenny’s old gift for excessive pedantry are still catered for. Speaking to the Islamic historian Tarif Khalidi, who spent part of his youth in Co Cork, the host asks whether his guest’s Irish experience shaped his academic career. “After all,” Kenny adds by way of revelation, “we are known as the land of saints and scholars.”

That aside, the interview is a delight. As the author of a book about the key position of Jesus in Islam, Khalidi is a niche guest. But he strikes up a lively conversation with Kenny about the challenges of being a “rational Muslim” in the face of rising fundamentalism, from the decline of Islam’s pluralism during the Middle Ages – “the jewel in the crown of this civilisation” – to the increased imposition of the veil on Muslim women, a custom his own mother rejected, and which “has no authority in the Koran”.

Kenny shows off his own acuity by pointing out that examples of women being treated as second-class citizens can be found closer to home.

“People in Ireland forget that only 50 years ago a woman had to resign from the Civil Service when she got married,” he says. It’s a neat twist, underlining Kenny’s ability to mine stimulating yet thoughtful material from unexpected quarters. The airwaves may be getting crasser and louder, but there’s no substitute for intelligence in radio.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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