Radio: ‘Outraged Pat Kenny tears up rather than rules the airwaves

Review: ‘The Pat Kenny Show’, ‘The Ray D’Arcy Show’

A long way from political tussles: the thrust of Pat Kenny’s show has changed since his move to Newstalk.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

A long way from political tussles: the thrust of Pat Kenny’s show has changed since his move to Newstalk. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

If the election has left the average voter feeling deflated, spare a thought for Pat Kenny. Not so long ago, during the 2012 presidential campaign, Kenny was effectively deciding the outcome of the contest. He hosted both the television debate, where a fateful tweet discombobulated frontrunner Sean Gallagher, and the subsequent RTÉ radio show, where Gallagher’s flailing performance definitively derailed his presidential bid.

Four years and one station swap later, Kenny is no longer a media kingmaker. On Tuesday’s edition of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), though it is the morning after the party leaders’ TV debate, the host’s attention is taken up with another matter. “Does your dog drag its bum along the ground?” he asks.

In fairness, Kenny’s question grabs the attention more effectively than any political grilling. To continue listening requires a strong stomach, however, as he talks to Pete “the Vet” Wedderburn about the icky canine affliction known as “sledging”.

Even Pete admits the topic is “a bit disgusting”, but Kenny is undeterred. He kicks off the discussion with a gleeful anecdote about his own dog’s experience, which involves, ahem, a half-passed sock. And that’s just the printable part of the conversation.

It’s a long way from those epic political tussles of old. And while Pete the Vet isn’t the lead item but rather a (normally) enjoyable weekly slot, such lifestyle content highlights how the thrust of Kenny’s show has changed since his move to Newstalk.

Kenny’s RTÉ rival, Sean O’Rourke, begins that morning’s programme with a heavyweight panel discussion of the debate.

Kenny opens with a much smaller-scaled personal story, albeit one of public interest. The host hears from Adam Doyle, a previous guest whose son was treated at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. While staying in the hospital, Doyle had remarked on the inadequacy of the parents’ accommodation, from poor soundproofing to cold, damp rooms.

Hoping to “give something back” to the hospital, Doyle approached various contractors and arranged for renovation of the quarters. Valued at €110,000, the work would be done free of charge. But with everything set to go – including a promotional radio slot with Kenny – the hospital said the project could not proceed.

The reasons, according to Doyle, were that Crumlin had an existing plan, including “framework agreements” that it would not abandon. When Doyle said he would accommodate any companies already contracted, other factors were cited, such as the impact of media coverage on the planned national maternity hospital.

Doyle is perplexed at the rejection of his offer, but Kenny is ostentatious in his outrage. He works his way from being “mystified” and “bemused” to “flabbergasted”. When the hospital responds with a statement expressing gratitude for Doyle’s offer but saying it has “a process in place for renovation”, the presenter can’t hide his feelings. “Once upon a time, I tore up tickets for the Late Late Show,” Kenny says, referring to an infamous incident from his TV career. To the sound of paper being ripped, he adds, “I’m tearing this up because it doesn’t respond to any of our questions.”

Kenny’s reaction seems genuine, and the story shows up the bureaucratic stubbornness that blights the health system. Still, his flamboyant outrage also speaks of a presenter who once set the agenda but now has to content himself with sounding off, even to the point of self-parody.

Meanwhile, The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has bypassed the election altogether. Given the dullness of the campaign, this is no bad thing in itself. But it underscores how D’Arcy’s on-air persona has changed from that of opinionated everyman into something soapier and blander since his move to RTÉ.

In his old berth on Today FM, he interviewed politicians regularly. Now, apart from the odd sighing aside about politics, D’Arcy concentrates on celebrity interviews and human-interest stories.

On Tuesday, the latter category includes a woman whose stolen phone contained pictures of her late daughter, and a priest in England who hears confessions on a bus. These items are by turns poignant and diverting, but lack the urgency of D’Arcy’s most memorable turns.

His interview with adventurer Pat Falvey seems more promising. The presenter says he wants to understand why his guest regularly risks his life on expeditions to Everest and the Antarctic. Falvey is bracingly honest, talking about the suicidal depression that prompted him to become a mountaineer, and about the “selfishness” of a career that takes him from his family for years at a time. He also speaks about the deaths he has seen with a telling lack of drama, though he dismisses the notion he would be happy to die on a mountain.

Despite such candour, D’Arcy can’t get a fix on Falvey’s motivation, perhaps because his guest speaks fluent pop psychology, regularly informing his host that everyone has their own personal Everest to climb. “I went to the Antarctic trying to find God,” Falvey says, “and in the end you know what I found out? I’m God.”

The split second that follows must seem like an eternity to D’Arcy, before Falvey continues in slightly less alarming fashion: “You’re God. We’re all God.” Faced with such statements, the presenter wisely ceases his attempts to understand his guest and goes with the flow.

If there’s any revelation, it’s that D’Arcy’s radio career is stuck in limbo. radioreview@irishtimes.com

Moment of the week: Enda eludes scary Sean Enda Kenny’s interview on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) is notable for the host’s opening gambit, which sets the aggressive tone. O’Rourke quotes a Fine Gael source who says the party will “scare the s**t” out of the electorate: “So, Taoiseach, what’s your scare story this morning?” That his grilling prompt consistently anodyne responses – the term “playing with a straight bat” was practically coined for Kenny’s contributions – sums up the entire uninspiring campaign.

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