You think rock'n'roll is wild? It's nothing on feeding kids
RADIO:Tom Dunne is all about family matters these days, but he needs to rediscover his rock edge
Back in the 1980s, comedy was, somewhat prematurely, dubbed the new rock’n’roll. A decade later, video games were being similarly hailed.
Now the most incongruous pretender yet to this exalted throne has emerged. For at least one prominent alumnus of the Irish music fraternity, family is the new rock’n’roll.
At times last week, Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) seemed to speak of little other than family matters, consigning his past life as the lead singer with the rock group Something Happens to the deepest recesses of memory. Children’s picky eating habits, the trials of finding suitable school places, the ordeal of putting infirm parents into care: all were discussed in great detail, to the point that one wondered whether Dunne’s show had adopted a new specialist brief without telling anyone.
Dunne’s interest in this area is hardly surprising, given that he is a presenter who regularly shares nuggets from his home life, while the matters he discussed are pressing issues for many. The problem was the dull worthiness of the fare on offer. Monday’s item on school places was typical. Dunne interviewed two mothers whose sons were unable to attend their preferred secondary schools because they lived outside the catchment areas. It was a stressful matter for the women, who worried that their children would miss the camaraderie of their primary-school chums. But while symbolic of how officialdom impacts on people’s lives, it didn’t make for riveting radio.
A bigger stumbling block was that Dunne came across as a bystander on his show. He elicited bureaucratic detail from his guests, but beyond fleetingly reminiscing about the “trauma” of his own transition to secondary school he was unable to bring his personality to bear.
He was more involved the next day, telling a poignant story about his experience of failing parental health. He recalled how his mother phoned him to ask about his new job at Aer Lingus, 15 years after he had left the company. “Pennies started to drop,” he said. “She wasn’t living in her own home by the end of that week. That’s how quickly it can happen.”
However, Dunne shared this not during his discussion on caring for elderly parents but with his colleagues Chris Donoghue and Norah Casey on Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays). His own item on the issue was dutifully informative but still flat, perhaps because of the presenter’s unease at milking human misery for the airwaves.
Dunne conducted one extraordinary interview, however, when he spoke to Suzanne, a student who told of her unexpected pregnancy and how, after deciding with her boyfriend that they were unable to give a child a good life, she bought abortion pills online. Her account of the induced miscarriage that followed was difficult to listen to. She admitted that having a “social abortion” was hard for some people to get to grips with, but she did not believe it should result in the prison term currently on the books. The pro-life lobby must agree with that, Suzanne said, and if so, “surely there should be abortion”.
Suzanne’s calm honesty gave the interview an almost unbearably raw quality, which may explain the host’s tentativeness throughout; he was particularly alarmed by Suzanne’s solo approach to her termination, undertaken because of financial pressures. Dunne sounded pained by the polarised audience reaction, too. “If you could keep a reasoned tone in your texts that would be great,” he pleaded forlornly.
On Wednesday, Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) yielded a jolting reminder of how such matters were once handled in Ireland. Following the publication of the McAleese report into the Magdalene laundries, Joe Duffy took calls from those who had experienced such institutions from inside and out.
But compared with the harrowing testimony that Duffy has hosted in the wake of previous clerical-abuse reports, there was a slightly different air to proceedings. For one thing, given the ageing profile of Magdalene survivors, there were fewer first-hand witnesses calling in. And while the uncaring nature of the church was again highlighted, the focus this time was on the State’s culpability in keeping women thus confined, with the Taoiseach’s highly conditional expressions of remorse coming under fire. “I’m absolutely disgusted,” said one survivor, Caroline. “I’m boiling over after what we went through.”
If church and state came under predictable fire, the supposedly reassuring family unit did not escape unscathed. One caller, Mary, explained how her mother had been committed to the Gloucester Street laundry in the 1940s after being raped and left pregnant. Brought up by nuns in a children’s home herself, Mary spoke about her first, upsetting encounter with her mother, at the age of 16, and the awkward relationship they later built.
Amid the emotion, Mary kept her eye on the bottom line, saying her grandmother had never been forgiven by her daughter. “She was locked up because she was pregnant,” Mary said, choking up. “She was raped.” A master at conducting such charged interviews, Duffy dug out every difficult detail but avoided prurience, dispelling any incipient abuse-report fatigue in the process.
Moment of the Week: Dunphy takes a punt
Game On (2FM, weekdays), RTÉ’s latest response to Off the Ball, Newstalk’s brilliantly irreverent sports show, got off to a solid if unspectacular start on Monday, with its host Damien O’Meara favouring extended analytical discussion over witty fireworks. But there was still a sparky moment when Eamon Dunphy joined an item on match-fixing. When the sports corruption expert Declan Hill said police authorities knew who the top fixer was, Dunphy, a self-professed punter, chipped in: “They didn’t tell you who he backed, did they?”