In case you didn't know, 2FM has been running a drink awareness campaign called Ask About Alcohol Week. I pass this information not just for those who don't listen to 2FM, but also for those who do. The campaign is noble in intention, but modest in ambition and execution, as Lottie Ryan makes clear on Monday's Breakfast Republic (2FM, weekdays): "All this week on 2FM we are starting a conversation about our love-hate relationship with alcohol." All very worthy, but actually hearing any of this "conversation" proves difficult.
The most obvious problem is that 2FM is a music station, where speech is naturally at a premium. On the brief occasions when Ryan and co-presenter Jennifer Zamparelli talk amid the pummelling playlist of chart hits, it's to chat about hot topics such as Vogue Williams's husband or events of Dancing with the Stars, the RTÉ television contest co-hosted by Zamparelli.
When the presenters finally get around to asking about alcohol, it’s through the prism of hangovers: the cure rather than prevention, as it were. They particularly focus on “the fear”, the sensation of angst that can follow a binge. “Did you ever wake up and rush to check your phone?” asks Zamparelli, who recounts once being six hours late for work after a midweek session. Ryan, not to be outdone, recalls asking her sister how drunk she had been the previous night. “Not that many people saw you naked,” came the reply. What larks!
Thus primed with such jolly tales of mortification, listeners are invited to share tales about the aftermath of having “one too many”. The “OMG” tone of the texts doesn’t suggest genuine regret. Meanwhile, Zamparelli’s final word is to joke that “I’ve had the fear for 10 years now”.
As a discussion on the perils of alcohol, it has all the effectiveness of Keith Richards preaching abstinence from sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. In fairness, the subject sits uneasily in what is meant to be a buzzy, funny, irreverent programme. In the show's own version of morning-after regret, a more self-consciously reflective mood appears later in the week, when hosts Bernard O'Shea and Keith Walsh rejoin Zamparelli to ponder – briefly – whether to cut down on booze. Overall, however, it's less of a "conversation" on alcohol consumption than a bantering exchange in a loud nightclub.
Ever the precocious pupil trying to act mature amid 2FM's class of rowdies, Eoghan McDermott (2FM, weekdays) tackles the issue with more deliberation. "I've definitely stepped away from drink in the last year," he says, before talking to Rutland Centre addiction counsellor Austin Prior about the effects of imbibing to "that level of ossification or obnoxiousness or incapacitation". (No quaint phrases like "one too many" for McDermott.)
Though the discussion doesn’t answer the age-old question of why Irish people drink so much, it does at least raise a few salient points. Prior notes that the “subliminal message” of the campaign against zero drink-driving limits was that “you can’t have a good time without alcohol”, while his host notes there’s “almost a suspicion” of people who abstain. McDermott is also candid about why he has cut back: “I just didn’t like myself when I was drunk.”
It's no coincidence that the audience response is more considered and inquisitive than Breakfast Republic's. That's not to overstate the impact of McDermott's discussion – he's soon back talking about the Euromillions lottery – but at least his message can be heard over the din.
Over on RTÉ Radio 1 there's quite a stir too, in the wake of reports of an American anti-abortion group that hopes to bring its controversial methods to Irish medical facilities. Mary Wilson, the host of Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) sounds even more purposeful than usual when she interviews Lauren Muzyka of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, an American organisation that tries to dissuade women from seeking abortions as they enter clinics. Muzyka tries to laugh off the story – "We actually had a good chuckle around our office this morning" – but Wilson, her game face firmly on, doesn't sound amused.
Instead the presenter rigorously quizzes her guest about the organisation’s contacts with Ireland. Muzyka stresses the peaceful, law-abiding nature of her group’s work. She says they have no plans to organise in Ireland while claiming newspaper reports took quotes out of context. Wilson never lets the bit from her teeth. When Muzyka reveals that her group has exchanged emails with an Irish anti-abortion counselling group, the host reminds her guest of an earlier assertion that she had no contacts with Ireland.
The American activist’s attempts to disarm proceedings fall flat, her glib quip about her husband working with an Irish exchange student greeted dismissively by Wilson. But the host’s relentlessness has a purpose beyond discomfiting guests: setting the record straight. When Muzyka says her organisation is not training Irish people and has no invitations to set up here, Wilson ends the interview brusquely: “Okay, thank you for joining us.” Oddly, both parties have reason to be satisfied with the outcome.
In contrast, a tetchy, inconclusive atmosphere prevails on Today with Seán O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International clashes with Maria Steen of the Iona Institute over the possibility of protest exclusion zones outside abortion facilities. How best to balance free speech with medical rights is a difficult and contentious question, but O'Gorman and Steen's antagonistic behaviour doesn't come close to solving it.
Steen’s assertion that the pro-choice side are “the sorest winners ever” seems particularly rich, as she glides over the anti-abortion graffiti daubed on a Longford GP’s practice. Meanwhile, she repeatedly objects to anti-abortion activists being “cast as a basket of deplorables”, despite the fact that she is the only one who uses the term. It’s a deeply dispiriting encounter.
Where’s the music drowning out conversation when you need it?
Radio Moment of the Week: Tubridy bites back
Ryan Tubridy (RTÉ Radio 1) is often at his best during his opening monologues, which can be funny and revealing. Certainly, dog-lovers will be alarmed by Monday's riff, when Tubridy talks about the problems of living next door to loud canines with a vividness that suggests familiarity with the experience. "No wall is thick enough to fight the power of a mad barking dog that barks and barks and barks and barks and barks, all day and all night and into the sunset … you get the point." Indeed we do. But there's a new solution, one that doesn't involve, ahem, "lacing a steak with arsenic and throwing it over the wall", but instead uses cannabis-infused treats. "It's a whole new class of chum," says Tubridy, who no longer seems as chummy towards dogs. Down boy!