Radio review: The clocks might have stopped in RTÉ, but Spin persists with piercing humour

Prepare for lift-off: Pat Kenny in studio at RTÉ. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Prepare for lift-off: Pat Kenny in studio at RTÉ. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sat, Aug 3, 2013, 01:00

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent the Liveline yapping with its daily moan. Silence the detractors, and with a muffin or scone, look around the canteen, let the competition come. Let the 46A rumble past, scribbling on tickets “Sorry, Tom Dunne”. Put P45s round the white necks of public servants. Let contract negotiations be victims of media rants. He was the Late Late Show, Prime Time, Today Tonight and The Frontline. But Dalkey is not wanted now, the three-wheeled motorcycle revs one last time. Pack up the studio and dismantle the wood. For no ratings now can ever come to any good.

Should we pause for the Angelus? What is probably the most dramatic transfer in Irish radio history saw Pat Kenny depart Montrose for Marconi House during the week, leaving RTÉ for Newstalk with immediate effect. As Twitter and newspaper websites exploded with the news, Radio 1 was left to report awkwardly on its internal wranglings in the manner it always does: a teenager shuffling their feet at a school disco, getting around to asking for a dance. On Wednesday, the director general, Noel Curran, was quizzed by Mary Wilson on Drivetime. Curran tried to be firm and reassuring, but sounded dry-mouthed and a little unnerved. “We want you to continue to listen to Radio One,” he said, addressing listeners. “We will replace quality with quality.” When Wilson asked whether Curran expected to lose more stars in the wake of Kenny’s departure, Curran answered pragmatically: “I think it’s not impossible that we will.” The following morning, Myles Dungan was in Kenny’s seat, filling in competently. Presumably he’s just keeping it warm for whomever will sit down more permanently because, as good a broadcaster as Dungan is, RTÉ will need a more glittering name to take over.

Speaking of prized slots, while Morning Ireland is unequivocally the best place to start your day in Irish radio land, it has a habit of broadcasting packages that don’t seem to have a point. On Tuesday, Jackie Fox reported on the concerts that will take place at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham site in Dublin, the home of Imma, as part of a wider question about how visitor attractions diversify. This isn’t really news; there have been gigs and festivals at Imma for a while now. There is, of course, room for lighter features on Morning Ireland; too frequently they fall down in the production stakes, with a by-numbers structure and level of interrogation that would be more at home on News2Day, RTÉ’s children’s news TV programme.

Later in the programme, Ray Kennedy detailed the tragic deaths of 10-year-old Eoghan Chada and his five-year-old brother, Ruairí, once again exhibiting his skill of reporting on hard-to-discuss matters in a dexterous manner. Of course, Kennedy earned his reporting stripes at RTÉ, INN, TV3 and then Sky News Ireland, the latter station where the importance of production values and an aversion to cliched reporting techniques was impressed upon journalists: stock visuals of the Four Courts weren’t enough to illustrate a trial, nor did a shot of Grafton Street full of disembodied walking feet scream “consumer behaviour”. Murdoch’s Irish TV news branch had its fair share of detractors, but it does have a legacy among its reporters in terms of production, something all radio reporters should be more skilled in.

Later still, Miriam O’Callaghan called a quiet halt to the reporting on the tragedy, saying how hard it was to find any kind of appropriate words or condolences. Instead, she treated it with simple empathy.

The day after the Pat Kenny bombshell, Tom Dunne was doing a sterling job at sounding upbeat on Newstalk, chatting to people about their ex-partners. Dunne is a nice presenter, but the show is incredibly benign, freewheeling uncontained like a conversation at a hairdressers, as a caller, Teresa, randomly detailed her romantic history for what felt like hours.

While “human interest” chatter on most stations slides around a spectrum of predictable topics or brain-melting scraps between irate callers who make idiocracy feel like a contemporary anthropological study, an unlikely source of decent daytime conversation is The Spin, on the youth station Spin 103.8, that is hosted by Clare McKenna and Jonathan McCrea.

On Thursday, the overdone topic of piercings was discussed and Lorna was the first caller on the air. “Are you attracted to guys who have piercings, or are you worried about the mechanics of getting . . . stuck?” McCrea asked. Lorna was on the fence. Dr Altona Myers was on next, detailing how people can fracture their teeth with tongue piercings. Paddy O’Donoghue, who is a piercer at the Dublin studio Body Shock and who, at one stage, had more than 100 piercings, detailed his bodymodification journey. “A lot of the trouble is caused by people’s own personal hygiene,” he explained calmly. McKenna asked, “It doesn’t affect the direction? It’s direction I said, just so you know,” with regard to how a Prince Albert piercing “down there” can impact urination. McCrea asked him why on earth he would have his tongue split in two, exclaiming “Gross!”. Quite. But fun nonetheless.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

Mick Heaney is on leave

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