Some manipulation for everyone in the 'Tubridy' audience

Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 00:00

RADIO:As the host of The Late Late Show, Ryan Tubridy is well acquainted with the programme’s freebie-touting mantra of “there’s one for everyone in the audience”, which has helped ensure the franchise’s durability, at least until he took over as presenter.

So, given the flatlining listenership figures for his radio show (Tubridy, 2FM, weekdays), it was probably inevitable that he would try to replicate this crowd-pleasing formula on the wireless at some stage. Judging by recent editions, that time has come.

This week Tubridy seemed to reward every caller with a gift of the corporate-sponsored variety, no matter how inane the subject – seasonal tins of biscuits was one such striking topic – as smartphones were regularly given away, their commercial provenance loudly proclaimed in the process.

But these were stocking fillers compared with the big prize around which Tubridy has been building his show of late. Funded by a well-known Irish fast-food chain, the Bring Them Home campaign involved people recounting the stories of family absent from festivities because of emigration, in the hope of winning flights back.

On Wednesday Tubridy revelled in the apparent success of this promotion. “It’s been the most joyous radio to be involved with,” he said, reeling off the names of reunited relatives to the strains of Mike Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo.

Tubridy then spoke to Josephine, whose husband of 23 years, Gary, had been working in Melbourne for nine months. She recalled her courtship, her close bond with Gary and the economic circumstances that had forced him to emigrate. As she countenanced Christmas without Gary, her voice trembled. With Tubridy lamenting that all the flights had been given away, her anguish seemed to have yielded nothing but voyeuristic titillation.

“But wait,” Tubridy then said. “I’ve been handed a piece of paper just this minute, and it’s an electronic ticket,” he continued, to the surprise of no one except his clearly overwhelmed caller. “Your husband is in the air as we speak.” Cue tears of joy. “My children will never eat in McDonald’s again,” proclaimed a grateful Josephine, delivering the kind of heartfelt endorsement that no ad can yield.

Whether the campaign pays off so handsomely for Tubridy is another matter. On one level this was commercially powered, emotionally manipulative radio writ large, right down to the last-minute insistence with Josephine that there was, metaphorically, no room at the inn.

But it also allowed Tubridy to show off his gift for cosy empathy while providing a joyful denouement that was almost impossible to resist, even if the emotional impact had been calibrated with the subtlety of a Hallmark card. Tubridy’s on-air warmth is unlikely to give his ratings the necessary fillip, however. His persona requires more flashes of steel and shards of controversy for him to triumph in the midmorning bear pit.

Confrontation was at the core of Documentary on One: Take No More (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), which recounted an incident that spoke dispiriting volumes about our times. Produced by Diarmuid McIntyre, Mairead O’Connor and Mary McDonnell, the documentary followed the stand-off that developed after unpaid subcontractors tried to remove fittings from a newly built primary school in Kilfinane, Co Limerick, last month. Faced by an intimidating group of men stripping the school of doors and cupboards, the staff texted parents, who set up a blockade.

The confrontation also provided the fortuitous opportunity for the producers, whose company is based in Kilfinane, to record the events as they unfolded. “We grab our microphones and race down to the school,” narrated McIntyre, whose son attended the school.

Through interviews with the parents, staff and tradesmen the bone of contention emerged: with the developer responsible for the school’s construction neither paying the subcontractors nor responding to their calls, the subcontractors had taken matters into their own hands. Teachers understood these grievances but felt they were a soft target and sought an injunction as all parties waited in the cold and rain.

As well as capturing the uncertainty and tension of the moment, the documentary painted an arresting portrait of the media presence that surrounds such stories as well as the attempted behind-the-scenes intervention by the presidential candidate Seán Gallagher.

But the most salient point was the melancholic air of all those involved. “There are no winners here,” was a common refrain. All parties felt powerless in the face of institutional indifference, even bonding over this common grievance: the parents provided pizza for the men they were besieging. In the end the contractor agreed to pay 90 per cent of the debt, though even then a last-minute stroke was attempted.

For McIntyre the incident showed how all parties had stood up for themselves and then come together “to find a resolution”. But he was also aware that it was a gloomy portent for his son’s future in an Ireland where “the many who can take no more” are pitted against each other. When there’s not enough for everyone in the audience, trouble will arise.

Moment of the week Inner child, phone home

Louisa McGrath’s report for Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) about adults who collect toys was meant to awaken the inner child.

But some listeners felt very old as Siobhán Hearne, of Hamleys toy store, spoke about the appeal of “nostalgic” toys. “Fisher-Price still have their old phone, which was probably around in the 1980s,” she said, audibly awed at such an unimaginable vintage.

If you can remember the original toy, there’s worse news: it was introduced in 1961. Happy Christmas, Methuselahs everywhere.

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