A clear winner among radio lightweights


RADIO REVIEW:AMID THE excitement of the past week’s boxing, it was easy to miss the action in another arena, which saw two plucky contenders take a shot at the title. Ryan Tubridy (Tubridy, 2fm, weekdays) and Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) may not be gnarled old pugilists slugging it out for one last chance at the big time, but to borrow the terminology of the ring, they are definite underdogs in their division, perennial runners-up in the ratings. But with the top dogs of mid-morning radio out of contention last week – Pat Kenny and Ray D’Arcy were both on holiday – the other two had the rare opportunity to show their mettle without being bullied by the big boys.

It was, at times, a lightweight contest. Tubridy opened Tuesday’s show by asking whether his listeners had seen Ted, the new movie about a cuddly toy who comes to foul-mouthed life. It is a testament to his ability to gab inanely that Tubridy was able to spin out this gossamer-thin material. He chatted at length with one caller, Carmel, about the merits of the apparently crudely comic film, before musing on her relationship with her boyfriend and asking her advice on buying a new camera. (She was a photographer.) Who needs the Olympics when you’ve got this kind of excitement?

He also talked to Jason, a man who sounded as if he would like nothing better than for a soft toy to spring into life, having spent the last 12 years travelling the world with his Winnie-the-Pooh bear. He also took the bear to bed every night, something his wife had somehow learned to live with. By the time Jason told how he dressed Pooh in a tux on his wedding day, Tubridy spoke for us all: “This is getting weirder and weirder.” Maybe so, but it was as good as it got.

Child psychologist David Coleman discussed going back to school in his regular slot but, by its nature, this lacked fireworks. There was the de rigueur Katie Taylor piece, in the form of an interview with the mayor of Bray, the boxer’s hometown. Another novelty item, about a hermaphrodite pony, failed to make the basic grade of quirky, as the host engaged in an amiable but rambling chat with Gillian Bird of the DSPCA.

Even allowing for the August news drought, this was wispy fare.

Tubridy’s snappy, pally manner may not be to everyone’s taste; here, his style was not the problem, but rather the substance, or lack thereof. The presenter needs to bulk up his show if he is to be a contender.

There was no shortage of meaty subjects on Dunne’s show on Wednesday. The Newstalk presenter addressed the decline of religion, heard stories about traumatic adoptions, and discussed vivisection and veganism with an animal-rights activist. But, thanks to Dunne’s approach, at no point did proceedings sink into suffocating earnestness.

Asking his audience about the recently recorded drop in religious belief in Ireland, he took the sting out of the thorny matter by affably recounting his own loss of faith. As a child, he “lived and breathed” the church, acting as an altar boy and fervently participating in shows of devotion. “Then, in my teens, I just cast it off,” he said, recalling how as a 14-year-old he told his parents he was no longer going to Mass. Given his perennially laidback manner, his apparent lack of adolescent agonising over this momentous decision was unsurprising.

Dunne’s easygoing style was used to good effect when fitness consultant Pat Henry told the remarkable story of how he accidentally found out late in life that he had been adopted six decades earlier. The details of his adoption were alarming. Having kept him for six months, his birth mother had placed a small ad offering him up, handing the baby over to his adoptive parents without any paperwork.

When he eventually tracked down his birth mother, it was not a joyful occasion. When contacted by Henry’s aunt, she said she “didn’t want him as a baby and he’s not wanted now”. Eventually, there was a cold reunion but, evidently, little closure. Henry appealed to listeners in the hope they could help him find out who his birth father was, as his birth mother had refused to tell him.

It was a compelling tale, during which Henry somehow avoided sounding bitter or maudlin. And Dunne was a good foil. Having previously heard his guest’s experience over dinner, he kept the story moving along, all the while reiterating his amazement at the unlikely set of events.

An equally incredible story came courtesy of UCD sociology lecturer Roger Yates, whose actions as a militant animal-rights activist in the 1980s saw him go on the run before spending two years in prison, during which he started on his path to education. But presented with a potentially fascinating item, Dunne’s instinct for matey banter let him down.

Although he asked a few dutiful questions, he did not explore Yates’s account with any nuance or depth. Instead, Dunne was more interested in seeing if his guest could convert him to veganism: given he had earlier quipped that “meat isn’t murder, it’s delicious”, that particular outcome was rigged. But in his head-to-head with Tubridy, Dunne was the convincing winner.

Radio moment of the week ...

Having been off the air since last year, Donal Dineenmade a welcome return to late-night radio last week, filling in during Dan Hegarty’s nightly 2fm slot. He seemed refreshed as he played a stimulating set of underground sounds, leftfield electronica, cult soul, funky reggae and even vintage rock, in the form of Them’s version of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. “It’s not over, it’s just beginning,” said Dineen. Fans of adventurous music will hope so.

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