Another week, another on-air outbreak of Thunberg derangement syndrome. Though not yet as widespread as the more common Trump variant, which mainly afflicts US Democrats and people of moderate civility, this new condition has spread rapidly among older men, triggered by exposure to a Swedish girl who doesn't want the world to end. With Ryan Tubridy having recently come down with a dose (albeit mild and possibly misdiagnosed), Pat Kenny has now become the latest Irish broadcaster to display telltale signs of agitation.
Kenny’s case is different, however, with idiosyncratic symptoms specific to the presenter. On Tuesday, Kenny previews the budget on his programme (the Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, weekdays). But with its contents flagged well in advance, the discussion has an anti-climactic air. Kenny even jokes that his guests “might as well go home”.
Things only get interesting when the conversation turns to climate change measures, as the host talks about the impact of "Greta Thunberg and her agenda". Kenny sounds approving of this development, which is notable in itself, but he also pronounces the environmental activist's surname in an unusual way, to rhyme not with iceberg but rather lingonberry.
This apparent slip of the tongue prompts a text from a listener named Louise, which the presenter reads out: “Why do you keep pronouncing Thunberg as if it had a ‘y’ at the end?” It’s a fair question, given Kenny’s track record: once on the Late Late Show, he repeatedly referred to US comedian Jerry Seinfeld as “Seinfield”, as in minefield. But the host sounds miffed. “I’ll tell you why, Louise,” he says, before playing a clip in which Thunberg says her surname without a “g”. Kenny is triumphant. “Okay, do you get it?” he says, adding Thunberg is entitled to have her name pronounced correctly.
Kenny has largely shed the on-air balance that kept his quirks somewhat in check
Compared to other cases, this is a refreshingly benign strain of the syndrome, more indicative of Kenny's tendency to get worked up about points of detail than anything else. It's a characteristic that surfaces frequently these days. After six years in Newstalk's robustly opinionated broadcast environment, Kenny has largely shed the on-air balance that kept his quirks somewhat in check on RTÉ. True, he remains extravagantly well briefed and, the odd instance of Trump derangement aside, is less politically strident than some station colleagues. But his inclination to overegg a point has only increased.
This, it should be said, makes for entertaining radio, even if that’s not always the intention. During a discussion whether alcohol should be banned on airlines, he ponders the difficulties of dealing with unruly passengers on flights: “You can lock them in a toilet but heaven knows what they’d do in there.” What indeed. Things become even more random when Kenny says he’s heard that students are now breathalysed at parties for Junior certificate students. “How that works with GDPR, I do not know,” he earnestly muses, vividly illustrating how the wheels of logic never stop turning in his mind. Still, Kenny’s singular traits enliven even the flattest conversation.
The budget, meanwhile, is so predictable that even the reliably pugnacious Ivan Yates can't get worked up when he interviews Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe on the Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays). Though he bemoans what he sees as a lack of any major budget initiatives, Yates's attempts at goading his guest are half-hearted: "I've called you prudent Paschal and pussycat Paschal," he says, "[but] today I have to call you paralysed Paschal." Er, ouch. He even asks if this is a fair comment. (Donohoe disagrees, unsurprisingly.)
But though he’s unable to generate fireworks with his guest, Yates deftly uses his past experience as a politician – “someone who stood in a dozen elections” – when discussing the decision not to increase basic welfare benefits, which he calls “a kick in the groin”. He suggests welfare recipients are more alert to such budget measures than other voters, and hence more likely to take it out on politicians at the polls. “They depend on you, did you not let them down?” he asks Donohoe. For all Yates revels in his persona as an iconoclastic critic of snowflake-y mores, he also possesses a keenly attuned political mind, which can get lost amid the gleeful combativeness of his show.
The wisdom of Yates’s analysis becomes clear on Wednesday, when Donohoe turns up for his traditional post-budget public grilling on Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Before the phone-in begins, the minister sounds self-assured, if not actually pleased with himself. When, apropos the budget’s small fuel tax increase, O’Rourke suggests the government is still “haunted” by the water charge debacle, Donohoe corrects his host. “Informed by the water charges,” he says. Presumably Napoleon was similarly “informed” by the battle of Waterloo.
Any complacency evaporates once the phonelines open, however. The first caller, Cormac, tears into the minister about working in the building industry on “zero hours contracts”, his anger so inchoate his actual question gets lost. The minister gamely tries to parry what O’Rourke diplomatically calls the “vigour” of Cormac and subsequent callers. Too often, however, Donohoe ends up trotting out glib soundbites, as when he quotes Joe Biden: “Show me your budget and I’ll show you your values”.
His heavily prepped answers sound lame in the face of such rawness
But when O’Rourke takes a call from Tracy, whose physically incapacitated daughter requires her fulltime care, Yates’s warning on the dangers of not increasing social welfare seems perceptive. Such is Tracy’s frustration, despair and fury about the lack of improved measures to help her family that the minister doesn’t dare push back much: his heavily prepped answers sound lame in the face of such rawness. Instead, he frets about seeming rude. It’s not a question of rudeness or derangement, however. If Yates is right, the minister may soon learn the difference between costs and values.
Radio Moment of the Week: Roy and Rog fair game for Mario
With Ireland facing crucial tests in both the rugby World Cup and the qualifiers for soccer's European championship, impressionist Mario Rosenstock matches up two of his best-loved sporting characters for his Gift Grub slot on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show (Today FM, weekdays), as he imagines Ronan O'Gara and Roy Keane facing off on the same radio station. It's a funny but astute take on the differing appeal of his two vividly realised protagonists, Roy and Rog, and indeed their respective sports. Suffice to say, Rosenstock's tersely comic imagining of Keane wins out. As Irish teams labour on the pitch, Rosenstock proves he still has an eye for goal.