Ray D’Arcy and Dave Fanning’s masterclasses in inane chatter

Radio Review: Pointless conversations are not the wished-for antidote to horrific news

Out to grass: Canadian lawn mower Theunis Wessels (above) proves a a tough interviewee for Ray D’Arcy.

Out to grass: Canadian lawn mower Theunis Wessels (above) proves a a tough interviewee for Ray D’Arcy.

 

There’s an early episode of The Simpsons in which the local radio station’s gormless jocks, Marty and Bill, are threatened with replacement by the DJ 3000, a computer with “three distinct varieties of inane chatter”. It may only have been an animated sitcom – albeit one that now enjoys full oracular status due to its prediction of a Trump presidency – but if the Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is anything to go by, this particular Simpsons scenario is no longer a satirical fantasy.

D'Arcy's interview with a man who gardened during a tornado is so mind-numbing that even the most elementary artificial intelligence might find it below them

On Wednesday, the presenter talks to gerontologist Sarah Harper about the social and economic implications of living longer. Predicting that many jobs will no longer require humans thanks to technological advances, Harper says that even her host faces obsolescence. “You could have a robot asking me the questions,” she suggests, before reassuring him that “you’ve got about 20 years”. 

Such momentary awkwardness aside, it’s actually a stimulating item. D’Arcy’s autodidactic curiosity complements his guest’s expertise to produce a wide-ranging (and unexpectedly upbeat) discussion on the future that may await us all. It’s hard to imagine a robot doing D’Arcy’s job in this instance.

On the other hand, his interview with a man who gardened during a tornado is so mind-numbing that even the most elementary artificial intelligence might find it below them. A photograph of South African-born Alberta resident Theunis Wessels mowing his lawn as a twister looms behind him is a viral hit, so D’Arcy speaks to him, presumably in the expectation that a picture is worth a thousand words, on air at least. This turns out to be a vain hope. 

Once the straight-talking Wessels explains how, well, he mowed the lawn during a nearby tornado, D’Arcy struggles to keep the conversation going. He asks his increasingly bemused guest why he moved to Canada and whether the country has an equivalent exam to the Leaving Cert. When Wessels mentions he has worked with Irish people, D’Arcy is reduced to asking, “Whereabouts in Ireland are they from?” If he keeps up like this, D’Arcy will be lucky to last 20 years before he’s bumped by a computer programme.

Still, given the continuing deluge of bad news, bland chatter provides possible distraction. The phrase “next up, Dave Fanning” may normally prompt a swift turn of the dial, but after grim bulletins from London and alarming speculation about likely terror attacks, the veteran presenter’s stint as stand-in host of the Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) seems like an attractive option. A few minutes of actually listening to the show dispels this notion, however. 

Never a man shy of talking, and talking, Fanning stays true to form when speaking to TV chef and Irish Times cookery writer Donal Skehan. He chats with his guest about living in Los Angeles (or “Los An-gel-eez”, to use the host’s fluent DJ-speak) and working in television (or “tele-visss-ion”) to cheerily forgettable effect. He uses his trademark tactic of posing questions so long-winded that answers seem superfluous. “I heard you saw a Kardashian sister in a mall and were so excited that you ran over, got down on your knees and said, ‘Please give me a selfie’,” Fanning says, sounding delighted with himself. (Skehan dutifully affirms that he did indeed spot one of the celebrity sisters.) This question is deemed such a gem that the station later runs it as a promotional ad.

Fanning outdoes himself during his discussion on the art of letter-writing with celebrity hotelier Francis Brennan. A potentially quirky item turns out largely to be an extended advertorial of Brennan’s new brand of stationery, along with the obligatory moans about social media killing epistolary habits among the young. 

When he’s not referring to Rory Gallagher and Bob Dylan, Fanning takes his singular inquisitive style to its logical conclusion, as he inquires how Brennan reacts to the arrival of mail. “Would you sit down in front of the fire, pour a glass of wine, then open the letter and spend 15 minutes reading it? Just say yes,” Fanning says, a hint of desperation in his voice. Whatever about presenters, guests are unnecessary at times like this.

In fairness, Radio 1’s talk show presenters aren’t the only ones hosting pointless conversations. News anchors are in on the act too. Gavin Jennings is normally a rigorous presence on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), but his item about a new schools initiative on fake news is so rife with insipid buzzwords as to be meaningless. In fairness, most of the dull terminology comes from Sheena Horgan, marketing consultant with Mediawise, a project that aims to teach primary schoolchildren how to have “an active and critical relationship with the media”. 

The initiative, run by semi-State body Safefood, sounds timely. But as Horgan talks about ensuring that children “engage with the media in a healthy and productive way” and “benefit from this very dominant media culture landscape”, it remains unclear how this is actually to be done. Faced with this babble, Jennings is uncharacteristically passive, barely mustering a critical question. It ends up as such a dull PR presentation that one almost misses the frisson of fake news posts. 

Radio Moment of the Week: Cooper’s crumbs of wisdom

A discussion on the merits of the pan loaf doesn’t sound promising, but on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays) presenter Matt Cooper conducts a surprisingly yeasty interview on the subject with Oonagh Monahan of the Irish Bread Bakers Association. Monahan tells Cooper it is “perfectly fine” to eat slices of pan every day. “Well, that’s debatable,” says the host. His guests replies that the bread contains only “fully approved” ingredients, such as vegetable oil-based fats, supplementary enzymes, acetic acids and preservatives. “You need lots of carbs,” she concludes, but adds that potatoes can provide those. Pass the mash, maybe?

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