If versatility is the mark of a good broadcaster, then Katie Hannon is up there with the best of them. Helming current affairs shows such as the Late Debate and Saturday, Hannon has little tolerance for waffle from her guests, sardonically undercutting any hint of blather or spin. But standing in as host of Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), she shows a different set of on-air skills, displaying a patience that would place any prospective candidate for sainthood on the fast-track to canonisation.
Tuesday’s show, for instance, has Hannon in a conversation that would tax even the biblical forbearance of Job when Max – not his real name – gets in touch with a cautionary tale of online scamming. Max recounts being contacted on social media by a young woman, who sent him flirty messages and increasingly “risqué” photos, before asking for money. Growing suspicious, Max checked the images of his new friend, only to discover that they were in fact pictures of a porn star.
It’s a salutary if sadly unremarkable example of the impersonation grift known as “catfishing”. But Max spins his yarn out for 20 minutes, taking listener and host through every aspect of the story in winding fashion. No detail is too extraneous, be it bridges he crossed or minor road mishaps he endured while texting his “friend”.
In her warmly engaging Liveline persona, Hannon hears out Max, whose tone suggests he’s more embarrassed by what happened than he lets on. Occasionally, however, the host gently moves her guest along. “You know what, Max, we don’t need to go through every detail of each exchange,” she says diplomatically. Such flashes of frustration aside, Hannon is, if anything, a more indulgent host than Duffy, while sharing his ability to keep ostensibly unpromising topics on the boil during slow days. Patience is its own reward, but it’s handy for filling airtime.
On Wednesday, however, Hannon shows herself adept at the challenging side of Liveline, when survivors of sexual assault discuss their experience of the legal system. Following Fine Gael Minister Josepha Madigan's revelation that she was sexually assaulted in the past, Hannon hears Deirdre Donnelly speak of her own distressing experience. Deirdre – an Independent Councillor for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown – describes being "rubbed and mauled" at a crowded hotel reception by a male acquaintance, who menacingly followed her when she tried to escape upstairs. Luckily, she was able to run to the safety of her room, despite falling and permanently injuring her knee.
After complaining about the incident to both the hotel and the man’s boss, she was asked to report the incident to the gardaí. Despite the guards being “wonderful”, Deirdre says there were no legal supports for her: after 22 months the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to pursue the case. Deeming the justice system “not fit for purpose”, she bluntly concludes: “I would say don’t complain, just move on.” Hannon, who lets Deirdre tell her troubling story at her own pace, sympathises with her guest’s “huge disappointment”, but is uncomfortable with her advice. “I’m just wary about putting that word out there,” the host says, fearing it would prove a “carte blanche” for predators.
She isn’t alone. Hannon hears other callers urge that such crimes be reported, despite having mixed legal outcomes themselves. Aisling recounts complaining to the Garda about a man who slapped her “backside” in a nightclub: he was convicted of common (but not sexual) assault. But this encouraging tale pales beside the horror suffered by 57-year-old Rachel, who was raped three years ago by a man she met on an online dating site. “He could have seduced me, but he chose to rape me,” she says, as stark an encapsulation of the trauma of sexual violence as you’ll ever hear. Rachel went to the guards, but the case was dropped: “The DPP let me down.”
Despite that, Rachel is firm in her advice to any victim of sexual violence: “Please, please, please report it.” Throughout this upsetting testimony, Hannon is a calmly reassuring presence, making clear her admiration for Rachel’s fortitude: “I just want to commend you on your bravery.” It’s tough but vital radio, underlining why Hannon sounds more at home in the Liveline hot seat than any of Duffy’s other replacements. She’s a supple presenter, affable too, but Hannon’s most striking feature is her quietly resolute air, encouraging callers to share their stories, good or bad.
There's a fine line between flexibility and inconsistency, however, one that's regularly criss-crossed on the Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). On Tuesday, D'Arcy talks to Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler about her department's performance in the past year. The conversation starts off in chirpily anecdotal style, but gradually the host hones in on the state of mental health services, a subject he has a long-standing interest in.
D’Arcy proves an unexpectedly dogged interviewer, steering his guest clear of spin and cutting through the labyrinth of official acronyms. Moreover, he’s openly sceptical about the health system’s ability to help people with mental illness. “We’re encouraging people to seek help, and then when they sought help, it wasn’t there,” he says. “That’s actually dangerous.”
As well as sharing listeners’ experience of inadequate mental health supports, he is well-briefed on the shortfalls in funding and services over the past decade. At times, the host is audibly exasperated at his guest, vigorously pushing back on some of her claims. D’Arcy’s effective combination of personal tales and well-marshalled data puts Butler through the wringer, without being acrimonious. Whether it’s enough to improve the situation is another matter, of course.
It’s back to bland business as usual the following day, however. D’Arcy talks to twins Seamus and Niall O’Connor, who had been spotted wearing Kerry jerseys in the crowd at Tuesday’s Euros semi-final in Wembley. Sounding slightly bemused by the attention they’re receiving, the brothers recount how they got tickets to the match and ended up among the Italian fans.
And that's pretty much it. "We're great," says D'Arcy, marvelling at the spectacle of two Irishmen in GAA jerseys at a football game. After his absorbing ministerial interview, it's a ludicrously bathetic change in tone. You can be too versatile, after all.
Radio Moment of the Week: Farage farrago
On Tuesday's edition of The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk), host Kieran Cuddihy excitedly flags an appearance by an unnamed, outspoken, anti-lockdown personality, in advance of England's self-styled "freedom day" reopening. As it turns out, this much-hyped figure turns out to be the drearily predictable Nigel Farage, fast becoming a ubiquitous presence on Newstalk. Cue Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's caution being dismissed as "a follower rather than a leader" by the reliably self-satisfied Farage. It's important to hear different voices, but does it always have to be the same smug, condescending, attention-seeking English politician?