Radio: Tough topic for Ray D’Arcy while Liveline goes lame

Review: ‘Liveline’, ‘The Ray D’Arcy Show’

During a harrowing discussion on sucide, Ray D’Arcy let flow his lively social conscience, which is less in evidence these days than when he was at Today FM.

During a harrowing discussion on sucide, Ray D’Arcy let flow his lively social conscience, which is less in evidence these days than when he was at Today FM.

 

Charged with keeping listeners tuned into RTÉ Radio 1 during the weekday afternoon, Ray D’Arcy and Joe Duffy effectively take on the roles of good cop and bad cop.

Liveline has long been a repository of national anxieties, where people share traumatic experiences that would otherwise go unheard. Meanwhile, The Ray D’Arcy Show tends to be a less emotionally taxing affair, its mix of interviews and human-interest stories leaning toward the lighter end.

On Wednesday, the usual pattern prevails, one programme marked by gut-wrenching tales, the other full of quirky items and low-level everyday dramas. Except today D’Arcy hosts the forum where people offload about a difficult topic while Duffy uncharacteristically provides the froth.

Liveline opens with a Dublin woman, Anne, complaining that her heavily pregnant daughter was forced to stand on a crowded Dart while young men continued to sit. She contrasts the situation with the London Underground, where her daughter is regularly given a seat.

It’s certainly a depressing snapshot of youthful male selfishness and self-absorption – they were all engrossed in their mobile phones, seemingly – but there isn’t much more to say, to the point that even the perennially patient Duffy hurries the story to swift conclusion.

Zero in on Zeno

The big topic of the day concerns Zeno, an Irish football fan who has been briefly prevented from entering the international match in Belgrade between the Republic and Serbia, allegedly at the behest of Irish soccer officials unhappy with his protests against FAI chief executive John Delaney.

Given the high esteem currently enjoyed by bosses of Irish sporting institutions, this seems a more promising item. But it fizzles out into supporters bickering about how best to voice discontent. They rather let the FAI off the hook in the process.

Duffy approaches all this as a slightly distracted bystander, as he tends to do when compelled to moderate such quarrels. His formidable broadcasting gifts only really click into action when he is a facilitator of difficult stories or an interrogator of callous officialdom.

D’Arcy, on the other hand, acknowledges that he’s entering uncharted territory when he describes Wednesday’s show as “a different type of programme”. It is devoted to suicide, featuring guests whose relatives have taken their own lives. Unsurprisingly, it’s a tough listen.

Upsetting stories

Taken individually, the stories are upsetting in the extreme. Caitriona recalls her teenage son Fergus, who became increasingly withdrawn before hosting a party the weekend he took his life, and packing a rucksack full of cherished objects beforehand.

Linda’s teenage son Darragh, on the other hand, gave no indication of suicidal intentions, telling his mother he would be back in a couple of minutes when he left her for the last time.

Julie remembers her nephew Leon, whose schizophrenia so overwhelmed him that he committed suicide while vainly waiting for a doctor to see him on a weekend night at St James’s Hospital.

Like any good presenter, D’Arcy tailors his approach to his guests’ mood. He comforts the audibly distraught Caitriona as she recalls the aftermath of her son’s death – “You needed a hug,” he says – but he also draws out her memories of the shattering effect on her family. In other cases, the host focuses on systemic deficiencies that meant catastrophic mental health issues were not attended to in a timely or suitable manner. “The system failed Leon,” is the presenter’s verdict.

The why of it

D’Arcy is keen to learn something – anything – from these distressing tales. But it’s a difficult quest, as none of the affected families can really explain why their loved ones killed themselves. “Is that the most difficult thing, that you don’t know the why of it?” a perplexed D’Arcy asks at one point.

Even the medical professionals on the panel admit to not understanding what prompts such extreme actions. “We have risk assessments, but no predictors,” says psychiatrist Pat Devitt.

The programme has the laudable aim of encouraging people to talk about the issue (it is part of a week of events organised by the charity Cycle Against Suicide), but such is the volume of painful testimony that it runs the risk of prompting only numb despair among listeners.

That’s not down to ghoulish voyeurism, but because it is so hard to imagine how the affected families could have done more to prevent such a dreadful outcome.

Despite the harrowing tone, by the end the programme has been a constructive exercise. The show is broadcast in front of an audience of people touched by suicide, which gives the atmosphere of a support group: the sympathy that the tearful Caitriona receives from her co-panellists is genuinely touching.

D’Arcy remarks that suicide is still regarded as a taboo in society, but posits that his audience would prefer that people talk about it.

In purely radio terms, the programme highlights D’Arcy’s lively social conscience, which is less in evidence these days than when he was at Today FM. By allowing people to talk about an awful subject in such unvarnished terms, he reminds us that silence isn’t always golden.

Radio Moment of the Week: Larry’s mortifying minutes

On Wednesday, Larry Gogan appears on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to reminisce about his 55 years as a radio DJ. The host is mainly interested in the near-legendary Just a Minute Quiz. Yes, someone did say that the Great Wall was in Crumlin (it’s a takeaway, still there). No one ever completed the phrase “Happy as . . . ” with the answer “pig in s***e”. (It’s a Brendan Grace gag.)

As for the one that starts, “Which star do travellers follow?” “Yes, that’s true,” chuckles Gogan, “Joe Dolan.” A joyous if mischievous trip down memory lane.

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