Emotions run high, but Mary Wilson stays cool

Radio review: The Las Vegas reports are radio that you wish you didn’t have to hear, but that’s hard to forget

Mary Wilson:  knows when to hold back and let her guest carry on

Mary Wilson: knows when to hold back and let her guest carry on

 

When faced with unspeakable tragedy, sometimes the only thing to do is keep talking. Herbert Morrison’s commentary as the Hindenburg airship burst into flames in New Jersey in 1937 was as much shocked reaction as it was eyewitness testimony, but was so gripping that it remains one of the most famous moments in radio history.

Following the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) carries a report by local reporter Andrew Laporta that in its headlong rush of evocative detail and dazed tone calls to mind Morrison’s legendary broadcast.

Presenter Mary Wilson introduces her guest by observing that the mood in Las Vegas is “total disbelief”. Laporta affirms this, albeit unintentionally, by talking without a break for close to 10 minutes in a manner that suggests he is still trying to take in what has unfolded.

“This is not a news story,” he says, before describing the atmosphere in the city, relaying emerging facts about the gunman and recounting survivors’ stories in almost stream-of-consciousness fashion.

His account lacks the real-time urgency of Morrison’s seminal report

Along the way, he reveals unnerving details, from the pavement being chewed up by the high-velocity bullets to an Iraq veteran’s vain attempts to aid the dying. “He said, ‘This really sucks,’” Laporta recalls.

His account lacks the real-time urgency of Morrison’s seminal report (“Oh, the humanity”) but has a similarly raw quality as Laporta tries to convey the sense of “pandemonium” and “chaos”. At times he almost sounds in a trance, as the appalling information spills out of him.

That such a display of unmediated emotion should be heard on Drivetime might seem strange: Wilson, after all, is devoted to projecting a cool “just-the-facts” equilibrium to such an extent that her on-air persona can come across as forbiddingly stern.

But in fact, much of the item’s impact stems from Wilson’s decision to hold back and let her guest carry on. A more ostentatiously opinionated presenter might have felt compelled to interrupt, but Wilson judges the moment well, even pulling back from an audible “hmmm” at one point.

Wilson is on more familiar territory when she discusses the wider ramifications of America’s lax gun control laws with Caitríona Perry, RTÉ’s US correspondent.

Perry, for her part, contributes several fine reports over the week. Her vox pop on Wednesday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) gets to the intractable issues at the heart of the carnage, as she speaks to Las Vegas residents who remain opposed to firearms regulations.

Sarah McInerney has been settling into a less keenly contested sinecure with her new Saturday morning show

Perry, and for that matter Wilson, delivers thorough analysis on the bigger picture surrounding the atrocity. Laporta, on the other hand, captures the fear and carnage of the event.  It’s the kind of radio you wish you didn’t have to hear, but which is hard to forget.

Once Wilson’s rival for early evening news audiences, Sarah McInerney has been settling into a less keenly contested sinecure with her new Saturday morning show, Between the Lines (Newstalk). Airing at 8am, it’s in a traditionally quiet timeslot, but any early weekend cobwebs are blown away by the host’s zesty style, as are guests attempting the ancient political arts of fudge and spin, such as Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan.

A member of the Oireachtas committee on abortion, Durkan talks to McInerney on the proposed referendum on the eighth amendment. His performance is a masterclass in dodging straight answers: the frequency with which he refers to the views of his constituents indicates where his priorities lie.

The longer the interview continues, the more exasperated the host sounds

He defends the Cabinet’s decision to ignore the recommendations from the Citizen’s Assembly on abortion about the wording for the referendum, saying time is needed to get medical clarity on the issue.

“Bernard, who have you been talking to?” McInerney asks incredulously. “There’s no clarity from medical professionals.”

The longer the interview continues, the more exasperated the host sounds, particularly when Durkan defends the committee’s decision to go over the same issues as the Citizen’s Assembly. “This is nonsense,” is the host’s verdict.

For all McInerney’s pressing, however, Durkan still manages to avoid a concrete pronouncement on the question of whether the Taoiseach should propose a referendum wording he doesn’t support. The deputy’s unabashed equivocating and ducking would almost be farcically funny were the issue not so serious.

Elsewhere in the show, what promises to be fluffy celebrity gossip becomes something more interesting, as McInerney’s conversation with showbiz journalist Naomi McElroy evolves into a discussion about the pressure put on mothers to have more than one child. It’s by turns personal and amusing, a lighthearted item that nonetheless touches on issues of family.

All in all, the show warrants more than the hour it’s allocated. (And that at the expense of the slot’s formidable former occupant Sarah Carey. )

Kenny alights on this phrase, first asking O’Broin why his party are 'trying to batter' northern unionists

Pat Kenny, in contrast, is in heavy-handed mood. On Monday (The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk), the host is talking to Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin about the Spanish authorities’ crackdown on the Catalan referendum, when his guest refers to pro-Spanish voters as “unionists”.

Kenny alights on this phrase, first asking O’Broin why his party are “trying to batter” northern unionists into a united Ireland. Then, after appearing to ascribe some role by Ó Broin in the “bloody violence” of the Troubles, Kenny repeatedly asks if his guest’s rebuttal of that charge amounts to “disavowing” the actions of the IRA.

It’s a curiously forceful diversion by Kenny. Sinn Féin TDs should perhaps expect such questions, but Kenny’s questions are nonetheless unexpected, particularly as Ó Broin has sounded reasonable and observant on the Catalan issue. Kenny might take a leaf from Wilson: sometimes less is more.

Radio Moment of the Week: Kenny gets lost in the music

Pat Kenny seems to have got out on the wrong side of the bed on Monday. As well as his chagrined questions on his own show (see above), he appears grumpy when chatting with Shane Coleman before the handover from Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays).

Responding to Coleman’s invitation for listeners to share their simple pleasures, a text arrives extolling the pleasures of listening to music on earphones. Coleman agrees, but Kenny isn’t so sure.

“That guy walking with his headphones on, [he’s] not hearing approaching traffic,” Kenny says, harrumphing theatrically. “I see it all the time, they don’t know that you’re coming, they’re so absorbed in the music.” Coleman sounds surprised: “Ah Pat, don’t be such a killjoy.” No such luck.

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