What’s in a name? In the world of radio quite a bit, at least when it comes to a show’s nomenclature: the more generic the programme name, the greater the scandal to befall the slot’s previous occupant, or so it would seem.
So, following George Hook's ill-advised remarks on rape, his Newstalk show High Noon has been replaced by the innocuously-named Lunchtime Live (although Ciara Kelly is proving a lively host). Now, just to underline Al Porter's fall from grace after allegations of inappropriate behaviour, his eponymous midday show has been usurped by the supremely bland-sounding Lunchtime (Today FM, weekdays).
Perhaps predictably, the new programme starts off tentatively. Presenter Muireann O’Connell’s first action is to read out a statement that Porter has handed in his resignation after “a series of events”.
Having performed this unpalatable duty, O’Connell gamely tries to lift the mood. “We’re going to play some music, which is what we love to do, and we hope you will enjoy it as well,” she says, almost apologetically. She then emphasises what a safe pair of hands she is by playing Northern Irish band Snow Patrol, practically a byword for pleasant but dull.
O'Connell, who also presents the Saturday Hits show on Today FM, ventures slightly beyond her music brief as the week goes on. She canvasses listeners on hot button topics such as smuggling foodstuffs into venues (one tip involves a bottle of booze hidden in a hollowed-out baguette) and resisting peer pressure on crazes such as eating avocado or watching Christmas ads. If there's any doubt that Porter is in a spot of bother, the inoffensive tedium of this fare confirms it.
Having exited from broadcasting to rather more fanfare earlier this year, Vincent Browne makes a brief – if, by the sound of things, reluctant – return to the airwaves on Tuesday's edition of the Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Browne is on to promote the Christmas campaign by older age charity Alone, but, initially at least, his appearance has all the enthusiasm of a reluctant character witness's testimony.
Asked why he is supporting this cause, Browne grumpily replies: “Because I was asked.”
D’Arcy, sounding uncharacteristically rattled, gently inquires if his guest is afraid of getting older. “When I’m asked questions like that by impertinent pricks like you I think about it,” Browne says, “but otherwise, no, I don’t.” Such charming answers are accompanied with mordant jibes about D’Arcy’s age and ability.
Attempting to elevate the interview above misanthropic comedy, D’Arcy asks about another public figure who has recently signalled his retirement. The mere mention of the Gerry Adams’s name elicits a deep sigh from Browne, but it also injects more substance into the conversation.
Browne admits that he likes Adams as a person – “I like you and that’s even more extraordinary,” he remarks to D’Arcy – adding that while he understands why the Sinn Féin leader is “much reviled”, he thinks the peace process would not have happened without him.
D’Arcy sounds dubious, musing that “you can’t forgive someone a wrong just because they do a right”. Browne mumbles dissent: “Yeah, so?”
But he also thinks that humans are prone to commit dreadful acts under pressure. “We should acknowledge our susceptibility to that.” He stresses that by pointing out Adams’s role in the peace process he is not justifying his role in the “abominable” acts committed by the IRA.
All in all, the interview is a curious mix of fatalism, insight and curmudgeonly caricature, but never less than enjoyable. Browne ends by saying that he’s taken a vow of silence. Maybe he’ll reconsider.
With both Chris Donoghue and Sarah McInerney announcing their departures from their respective weekend shows on Newstalk – for purely professional reasons, it should be stressed – there are more and more vacancies becoming available for Browne's compelling if dotty persona. He certainly enlivens D'Arcy's show.
A decidedly eccentric air also descends on Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays) when Shane Coleman interviews former unionist MP John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, about the idea of Donegal joining the UK. The peer suggests that the county has been neglected by the Republic. By way of proof he says that Northern Ireland's population has increased while Donegal's has halved since independence. He adds, slightly provocatively, that "the half that have left have gone to the United Kingdom, either to Glasgow or the Bogside".
It’s not as if Lord Kilclooney expects this to occur any time soon, however. Though he thinks the “bare facts” suggest Donegal is better off out of the Republic, the county is very nationalist even if “nationalism is a thing of the heart rather than the mind”.
In truth, it’s all a bit of a jape, with Taylor gleefully playing the unionist provocateur – he suggests that Brexit matters little to the North as Britain is its biggest market – while Coleman half-heartedly raises awkward questions.
When it's all over even brash co-presenter Paul Williams sounds slightly taken flummoxed. Ever the would-be comedian, Williams suggests the peer's name should be "Lord Looney" as "he's either being deliberately provocative or has been enjoying far too many sherries in the House of Lords". Arf arf.
Still, it's the kind of item that keeps Newstalk Breakfast interesting. Despite the show's ominously bland name, the presenters aren't afraid to go out on a limb.
Moment of the Week: Dunne puts on the squeeze
With Sean Moncrieff absent from his afternoon Newstalk show through illness, Tom Dunne steps in. Always a welcome presence, Dunne showcases the impish humour familiar to fans of his nighttime show, particularly when Henry McKean files a vox pop about busking in Dublin. McKean talks to Mary, a button accordion player who complains about loud "blow-in" buskers, and finishes the report with a squeezebox tune. The music ending, Dunne chips in. "A bit of accordion there," he says, chuckling. "The old definition of a gentleman, a man who can play the accordion but doesn't."