Review: The Pat Kenny Show

A good, solid start by the veteran broadcaster, but where are all the women?

Pat Kenny kicked off his new show on Newstalk radio today. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Pat Kenny kicked off his new show on Newstalk radio today. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien


If there’s anything more absurd than reviewing a single live radio show, it’s reviewing the first ever instalment of a single live radio show. As Pat Kenny told this newspaper last week, he never reads reviews of his shows for that very reason. Therefore he won’t be reading this instant judgment: that after a slightly shaky start, The Pat Kenny Show had a pretty good maiden voyage.

A little fluff in his pre-news intro hinted that even with four decades’ worth of broadcasting under his belt, there were still a few butterflies in Pat’s stomach this morning on Day One of the Great Radio Face-Off. Not surprising, really – he’s handled plenty of big, live events in his day, but this was something a bit different – the billboards and full-page newspaper ads plastered across Ireland for the last week made clear that the guests, the subjects and everything else were secondary. This was all about Pat.

On Twitter, the hashtag #pknt was soon trending, while media nerds across the country were reminded of how difficult it is to listen simultaneously to two different talk shows.

Round One. Ding! Sean O’Rourke had Edna O’Brien (live) on the late Seamus Heaney; Pat had Bono (recorded) on Heaney, but also on a range of other subjects. It was an unusual and perhaps unwise choice for the first top-of-the-show item. A non-news, recorded interview lasting half an hour contrasted strongly with O’Rourke, who had efficiently despatched interviews with O’Brien and with former UN weapons investigator Hans Blix on the Syrian crisis before 10.30am.

“What I love about you is you love to listen but you cut through the blather,” Bono told Pat, not an assertion borne out by the interview itself, which would have benefited from a stronger hand in the cutting room.

However, a short, solid item on the new regulations on school admissions acted as an effective bridge into the next big segment, an interview with Pat’s soon-to-be Newstalk colleague, Ivan Yates.

It might be very foolish to read too much into the first few hours of a show which will take several months to fully find its feet and establish its style, but still it’s worth noting that the first day of the show was built upon a series of lengthy setpiece one-on-one interviews. Yates, newly discharged from UK bankruptcy and set to resume his position as Newstalk’s morning show anchor later this week, was a compelling interviewee, and Kenny’s undoubted interviewing skills came more to the fore.

Interestingly, while Yates is part of the Newstalk brand, there was none of the insider self-appreciation which often infests RTE. Pat put the questions about whether Yates could be objective in covering banks and other issues, and the answers were straight and to the point.

Meanwhile, Today with Sean O’Rourke was losing its way with an irritatingly self-referential Oliver Callan skit on the radio wars, followed by an interview with new Irish rugby coach Joe Schmidt that perhaps showed O’Rourke still has a bit of work to do on his interviewing technique when it comes to non-news subjects.

Diarmuid Martin is something of a fixture on the radio talkshow circuit, and Pat’s interview with him didn’t break any new ground. But it was a good, solid piece of talk radio with a typically articulate exposition of the challenges facing contemporary Catholicism by the archbishop. In targeting the segment of the population that has never budged from RTE Radio 1, Newstalk may well refocus more on issues such as faith communities which have traditionally been left to RTE.

Speaking of religion, this was an unusual day in many ways, and the (justified) decision by RTE to broadcast the Seamus Heaney funeral meant effectively that talk show hostilities came to an unexpectedly early halt on this first day. Listening to Pat’s comprehensive and wide-ranging interview with Brendan Howlin, it was easy to forget you weren’t listening to RTE. Which is probably exactly what Newstalk wants.

A preview of a TV3 documentary about Travellers of Irish descent in the US, and an item on IVF wrapped things up. By this point, listeners on Twitter were pointing out the total absence of female voices on the programme - a glaring deficiency which afflicts a number of Newstalk shows.

“That is why we have testicles,” said the IVF expert, but he was referring to fertility rather than broadcasting ability. Something the new show’s producers will surely have to address.


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