Radio: Keelin Shanley deserves more than six out of 10

Review: ‘Today with Sean O’Rourke’, ‘Drivetime’, ‘The Last Word’, ‘The Anton Savage Show’

Relaxed and engaged: Keelin Shanley has established herself as a top contender for promotion to a show of her own

Relaxed and engaged: Keelin Shanley has established herself as a top contender for promotion to a show of her own

 

Are we too polite as a nation? As Keelin Shanley contentedly listens to a guest dissect her broadcasting skills and deliver a lukewarm verdict, it’s a charge that would seem to stick. In her role as the regular stand-in presenter on Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) Shanley talks to Colm Foster of the Irish Management Institute about “terminal politeness”, an apparently endemic problem in Irish workplaces that allows slack performers to go unchallenged. By way of illustration Foster gives what he sees as an honest evaluation of his host’s job.

He suggests that Shanley ask herself, “on a scale of one to 10, how would I rate the show?” After awarding the presenter a six Foster adds, “Let’s talk about how it could be a 10.” It’s meant as a hypothetical assessment, but the fact that Shanley doesn’t bristle at her guest’s presumptuous air surely merits top marks for professional forbearance.

Shanley’s performance underlines why she has established herself as a top contender for promotion to a show of her own. She sounds relaxed and engaged, picking up on Foster’s ideas and clarifying them for the audience. Shanley makes such light work of the interview that its more unappealing aspects almost pass by unnoticed.

Foster makes the interesting point that those who avoid confronting shirkers are being kind to themselves. But he then describes this lapse in management as “a failure of moral courage”, as if pushing employees to be more productive is a vital metric of ethical behaviour. Still, it’s a stimulating take on what could have been an arid topic, largely thanks to the host’s easy style.

Shanley, who is also an anchor on Morning Ireland, shows her current-affairs experience during Brian O’Connell’s damning report about hospital waiting lists. O’Connell hears from two Cork women whose lives have been made intolerable by delays to routine orthopaedic operations. One woman, Eileen, has been waiting since 2012 to see a consultant about a hip replacement, relying on crutches and morphine patches in the meantime. “I can’t do anything because of this bloody waiting list,” she says, the despair evident in her voice.

The understated O’Connell uncovers some startling facts. He says that MRI scans have effectively been privatised in Cork, as public appointments have a waiting time of more than two years. He contrasts the local benchmark of 15 months with the situation in the NHS in Britain, where an investigation is launched if a patient isn’t seen within 18 weeks.

Shanley uses this information in quietly devastating fashion when she talks to Gerard O’Callaghan, chief executive of the South/South West Hospitals Group. As O’Callaghan trundles out his statistics – 93 per cent of patients seen within 15 months – Shanley politely but insistently picks apart her guest’s modest spreadsheet of accomplishments.

O’Callaghan concedes agreement while forlornly adding that it takes time to address such problems. It’s a stark snapshot of the health system: amid the week’s political posturing it’s a reminder of what’s at stake.

On Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) Mary Wilson also hammers home the theme of a dysfunctional health system with a calm manner that belies her firmness. On Tuesday Wilson talks to Sharon, a Cork mother seeking specialist treatment for her daughter, who is suffering from anorexia.

Wilson’s questions help reveal the personal trauma caused by the condition while pushing the story forward. By the end the listener has learned more about anorexia itself as well as the woefully inadequate provision of dedicated treatment in Ireland, with four public beds in Dublin serving the country. It’s a good example of an interview that is sensitively handled yet clearly focused.

Wilson’s low-key effectiveness stands in contrast to the more voluble approach of Matt Cooper, host of The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays). When it comes to news issues he opts for ding-dong exchanges between conflicting parties, such as Tuesday’s item on industrial unrest on the railways with Barry Kenny of Irish Rail and Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union. Although predictably fractious, it’s not illuminating, more notable for the cries of “I didn’t interrupt you” than for any decisive argument.

When he’s not handling such Punch and Judy shows, Cooper adopts an exaggeratedly jocular tack. A piece on the excessive amounts of money received by children for their First Communion is marked by the host’s increasingly unfunny refrains about how much such occasions have cost him. (Shanley also covers the theme of First Communion, in a discussion of the way girls’ dress sizes are affected by increased obesity.)

But this is top-notch stuff compared with Cooper’s item on a Cork man who was reportedly bitten by a rat while on the toilet. He briefly touches on the public-health ramifications but mainly delights in being able to use the phrase “bite you on the arse”. It doesn’t matter that Cooper is being impolite. That he’s tedious is the bigger problem.

Moment of the Week: A matter of taste

Monday’s edition of The Anton Savage Show (Today FM, weekdays) carries a memorable interview with Dr Roberto Canessa about his harrowing ordeal as a survivor of the terrifying 1972 Andes plane disaster. In particular, the Uruguayan recounts the infamous tale of how he and other survivors ate the corpses of fellow passengers in order not to starve. The articulate and gracious Canessa has come to terms with his trauma, aided by his family: he talks fondly of his son, who “has given me two delicious grandsons”. Talk about an unfortunate slip of the tongue.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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