Radio Review: Gently does it as Myles Dungan blows away hot air on wind farms

Stand-in host handles RTE Radio 1’s coveted morning show with aplomb, while Ryan Tubridy unexpectedly shines on 2FM


With a fortnight to go before battle commences, RTÉ Radio 1 has been quietly shoring up its previously unassailable mid-morning redoubt, before Pat Kenny, the Lundy of Montrose, commences his assault from Newstalk. The slot currently being kept warm by Today With Myles Dungan (weekdays) has been subtly rebranded, with the station’s promotional trailers last week emphasising that the programme is a “current affairs magazine”, a description that is a good fit for the host-in-waiting, Sean O’Rourke.

If the show’s remit has been realigned, nobody seems to have told Dungan. While the programme had, as always, a meaty news element, the range of subjects covered was clearly influenced by the stand-in’s interests. This was most obvious in this week’s series of interviews with academics visiting the Parnell Summer School in Wicklow: as the long-time host of The History Show on Radio 1, Dungan brought an informed and inquisitive touch to items on US presidents and US-Irish relations.

But the strengths of his deceptively inconspicuous style were also on show. Speaking to Rob Heffernan in the immediate aftermath of his World Championship gold medal in the 50km walk, Dungan hit the right note of casual engagement, avoiding the portentous stiffness that could overcome Kenny on such occasions.

Dungan was also comfortable with current affairs. On Tuesday Valerie Cox reported on a stormy meeting about a proposed wind farm in the midlands, during which one couple, Michael and Dorothy Keane, spoke of how the persistent noise from a nearby wind turbine was forcing them to move from their home. After the report, Dungan interviewed Kenneth Matthews of the Irish Wind Energy Association, who tut-tutted his “disappointment” at some of the “inaccuracy” in the item. Instead, he highlighted “the facts” of 17 reports that found noise from wind farms had no ill-effect on health.

When Dungan suggested the Keanes “would not be leaving unless there was some deleterious effect”, Matthews said he couldn’t comment on “people’s feelings”. “It’s not their feeling, it’s their hearing,” Dungan shot back. His guest kept digging a hole for himself, saying “peer-reviewed studies” showed background noise in rural areas – birds, cows – was louder than a wind turbine 700m away. “The facts suggest there isn’t an issue,” said Matthews.

“Again I come back to the point that nobody leaves a home that they have spent eight years creating for themselves unless they have pretty good grounds for doing so,” said Dungan. In his low-key way the presenter punctured the ill-judged corporate language as effectively as any fiery polemicist. He may only be warming the seat for O’Rourke, but Dungan gave an object lesson in helming the prized slot.

With the best will in the world, few would describe Kathryn Thomas as a broadcasting heavyweight. But on Wednesday, as guest host of The John Murray Show With Kathryn Thomas (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the light entertainment and travel presenter seemed ill at ease with all but the most gossamer-light of topics. An amiable presence, she was happy talking to callers who loved entering competitions, but she sounded deeply uncomfortable when talking to Stephanie Murphy, an Australia-based Cork woman whose nine-year-old daughter, Aisling, had just won a high-profile child-beauty pageant in Sydney.

One sympathised with Thomas’s unease about beauty contests for preteens, but she did a poor job in hiding her queasiness. As Murphy enthused about the appeal of pageants – which, she said, were more “advanced” in Australia (“In Ireland they don’t have any swimwear competitions”) – Thomas lacked any chemistry with or curiosity about her guest, whose love for her daughter was genuine, however problematic her choice of pastime. And when it came to the central bone of contention, Thomas took the soft option, muttering, noncommittally, “Some people might say [it] is the sexualisation of a child,” then allowing Murphy’s answer – that it was just a matter of opinion – to slide.

For the most part the bill of fare on Tubridy (2FM, weekdays) was as insubstantial as ever last week, but there was a hint of the keen broadcasting instincts that lie buried beneath the quotidian mountain of fluff. Prompted by the arrest in Peru of the Tyrone woman Michaella McCollum Connolly on drug-smuggling charges, Ryan Tubridy spoke to Paul Keany, a Dublin carpenter who, in 2008, was sentenced to eight years in a Venezuelan prison for attempting to carry cocaine out of the country.

As a recreational drug user with a touch of white-van-man lairiness, Keany was offered the job of mule through his dealer when he needed money to pay debts. His account of being caught, sexually assaulted and thrown into the Darwinian arena of the Venezuelan penitentiary system made for compellingly painful listening. Throughout it all, Tubridy handled his guest with a light but sure touch, nudging the story along and keeping any moral qualms to himself. Almost. When Keany described bribing his way to early parole, escaping to Colombia and telling the Irish Embassy that he had lost his passport, the host’s voice had the slightest disapproving intonation: “So you spoofed your way home.”

It was the mildest of admonishments, but a reminder that his guest was a convicted drug smuggler. The host barely referred to the relevance of Keany’s story to events in Peru: he didn’t need to. On this showing, RTÉ might yet recast Tubridy’s show as a current-affairs magazine.

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