Radio: Hare-brained gags and musical diversity, together at last on ‘Marty in the Morning’

Marty Whelan is an odd fit on Lyric FM, but even his wacky style is a good deal more inspirational than daytime on 2FM

Marty Whelan: He do the police in different voices

Marty Whelan: He do the police in different voices

Sat, May 24, 2014, 01:00

One doesn’t normally associate the patter of Marty Whelan with the classics of high modernism. But such is the ceaseless cavalcade of funny accents and headspinning nonsequiturs that make up Marty in the Morning (Lyric FM, weekdays) that it calls to mind the line from Charles Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend, about the newspaper-reading Sloppy, later used as the working title for TS Eliot’s The Waste Land: “He do the police in different voices.”

Whelan’s show is obviously not a long-form poem of shifting perspectives and challenging verse structure; nor does the presenter have a penchant for reading Victorian police reports out loud. (Well, not yet.) He is, however, seemingly unable to talk for more than five seconds without changing the pitch of his voice for dramatic or, more usually, comic effect.

Whether he is seamlessly weaving listeners’ texts into his ever-modulating spiel or piling one zany aside on top of another, the effect is of a stream-of-consciousness opus as channeled through a Smashie and Nicey-style daytime radio jock.

After a while this headlong verbal rush exerts a curiously mesmeric power. Trying to capture it accurately, however, is akin to trying to note down every passing number plate from a motorway flyover.

“Thanks to Majella – really? Yes – and the marvellous Carlow College of Music. They had a great concert yesterday, you know. My son was on the trombone, Eoin. More power to your elbow, your mouth, fair play to you. That’s Monica, wishing them all well today, which is fantastic.”

And that’s just one random 15-second passage from a show that lasts three hours. Little wonder there are times when he sounds hoarse.

To maintain this pace, no trope is too obvious nor joke too corny. Broadcasting from Berlin on Wednesday – he’s there for a performance of Tosca – he opens the show with, yes, Song of Germany (its refrain of “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” familiar to many).

He enthuses at length about the city and German music, but he also declares that the weather is so warm that it’s “a mankini for Marty”, an image that is paradoxically chilling.

It is, on the face of things, perverse that someone like this should be one of the marquee names on a music station with such knowledgeable and committed presenters as John Kelly, Gerry Godley and Ellen Cranitch. But that is to do a mild disservice to the music on the show: his greatest asset.

Within his “tucker bag” is a playlist ranging from John Barry spy themes to rootsy Americana and wry Noël Coward ditties, making it the most musically adventurous morning show on Irish radio. That such an accolade should be bestowed on a man with the speech patterns of a frustrated ventriloquist and the wit of a naff, slightly batty uncle is, however, a faintly depressing comment on the state of the airwaves.

Certainly anyone looking for musical inspiration is unlikely to find it during the day on 2FM, the supposedly youth-oriented station that made Whelan, among others, a star when it began broadcasting, 35 years ago this week.

The station has undergone a much-discussed overhaul this year, but for all the changes in personnel, its output of chart pop seems indistinguishable from that of its most generic commercial rivals. Perhaps more worryingly, the station’s big-name signing from the music world, the former Westlife member Nicky Byrne, is still struggling to find his voice on air.

There is nothing objectionable about The Nicky Byrne Show (2FM, weekdays) – the erstwhile boyband star has a matey Everyman manner and a rapport with his cohost, Jenny Greene, that rarely rises above the mildly slagging – but the programme has little to distinguish it, either.

Byrne’s musical career remains his most distinctive characteristic, as when he casually mentions that he will be playing a charity football match with José Mourinho and Andrei Shevchenko. But take away the namedrops and his presentation is as amiably forgettable as the cover versions he used to warble.

For a slot built around a conversation with no explicit language or sudden shocks, Drama on One: Panic (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday) has a far more jolting impact than its brevity or simplicity suggests.

Tara McKevitt’s short play features an initially unremarkable dialogue between Darren (Arthur Riordan) and Clara (Aileen Mythen), after the latter has suffered an apparent attack of nerves while boarding a plane. As the couple talk the incident through, the nature of their relationship gradually becomes clear.

With Darren seemingly lending a sympathetic ear to Clara’s misgivings, she admits to a series of small untruths and one big one. The play’s central twist may be ever so slightly predictable, but it is truly disturbing, thanks to the creepy calmness with which Darren quietly manipulates the situation in his favour.

Determinedly unsensational in tone, with understated performances, Panic gets under the skin in the most uncomfortable way, a reminder of the power of the voice to unsettle.

Moment of the Week: Avoiding discrimination

On Saturday, Rory Cowan, from the sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys, tells Marian Finucane how Brendan O’Carroll refused Russian television the rights to the show when it tried to remove his gay character from the script. He also says that his father was a champion of Travellers’ rights and that he himself can “recognise” discrimination. He then describes how, in 30 years of visiting Israel, he has never seen discrimination towards Palestinians: “If I had seen any policy of prejudice or discrimination I would never have gone back.” Challenged, he cites anti-gay prejudice in the West Bank and the number of Israelis killed by terrorism. “Doing something wrong doesn’t justify somebody else doing something wrong,” says Finucane. Cowan’s definition of discrimination seems rather elastic.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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