Huffing and puffing Bobby Kerr, a magic dragon for lazy Sundays
The Dragon not running for president brings a genial appeal to his Newstalk show
Bobby Kerr: The Newstalk radio host’s cheery unflappability belies his business nous and worldly experience.
As if the airwaves weren’t already full of former Dragon’s Den stars talking about the presidency, Sunday morning finds another alumnus of the TV show, Bobby Kerr, getting in on the act.
But whereas Kerr’s erstwhile co-stars Sean Gallagher, Gavin Duffy and Peter Casey are presidential hopefuls, this dragon is only blowing smoke up the Áras, so to speak. Rather than run for office himself, the host of Bobby’s Late Breakfast (Newstalk, Sunday) prefers to throw water on the campaigns of others.
Opening the show, Kerr wonders whether “we really need election posters”. He tut-tuts on the waste generated by the placards for President Michael D Higgins he saw being erected that morning. He chats with fellow Newstalk presenter Kieran Cuddihy about Sinn Féin candidate Liadh Ní Riada’s posters, noting they omit any mention of her party. It’s a notable coincidence that he spares Gallagher, who’s pledged a poster-free campaign, as well as Duffy and Casey.
It’s also the closest the perennially affable host comes to stirring controversy. Over the course of his leisurely breakfast – and the show features an actual breakfast – Kerr proves an agreeable companion, all good-natured self-deprecation and easy engagement with his guests. He even manages to make a conversation with reporter Ivan Little about covering the Troubles more bearable than its grim subject matter suggests.
Kerr’s relaxed style also means that factual slips are more easily forgiven than with more self-important presenters. Twice he refers to the prominent Brexiteer that is Boris Yeltsin. (It’s an understandable mistake, in fairness: Boris Johnson shares a propensity for alarming buffoonery with the late Russian president.)
Elsewhere, Kerr gets dates wrong during his interview with singers Paul Brady and Andy Irvine, and genially struggles to pronounce a jazz musician’s name. Yet bumps, such as a dodgy phone connection to architect Dermot Bannon, only lend to the show’s gently chaotic appeal.
The host’s cheery unflappability belies his business nous and worldly experience, possibly to his detriment. When speaking to chef Graham Neville, Kerr’s knowledge of hospitality sector is obvious – he founded the coffee chain Insomnia – but he can also give the (perhaps deceptive) impression of coasting through items.
But while his show might occasionally do with a tad more bite, it’s ideal lazy Sunday listening, with no bitter taste to sour the mood. It’s no wonder listeners text in their thanks to Kerr for not running for president; he may huff and puff a bit, but this dragon belongs on radio.
Rather than talk about those seeking the highest office in the land, the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) focuses on the hundreds leaving what appears to be the country’s lowliest public position: namely, member of the Irish Defence Forces.
On Tuesday, security analyst and former officer Tom Clonan talks to Kenny about the high numbers of personnel exiting military service – 1200 in the past six years – citing poor pay and conditions as the main reason. The situation has reached “critical level” according to Clonan, as the Defence Forces “cannot continue to operate even their most basic functions”.
It’s a salutary conversation, not least because it highlights how military personnel, lacking industrial representation, have had no pay restoration from post-crash cuts.
Clonan speaks passionately about their service compared to the pitiful salaries that force many to seek income support. With the uncertainty of Brexit looming and terrorism an ever-present possibility, letting numbers fall below the minimum level is folly, he says.
The Irish military’s potential, Clonan says, is “not being realised because of penny pinching”
Even from a fiscal point of view, the current situation seems ridiculous in Clonan’s telling. Expensive naval vessels lie idle due to insufficient crew numbers, while the State pays millions to British helicopter firms to provide 24-hour airlifts for transplant patients while Air Corps helicopters are unable to fly at night due to cutbacks. The Irish military’s potential, Clonan says, is “not being realised because of penny pinching”.
Apart from one of his signature off-piste diversions on whether soldiers on overtime shifts have enough tasks to do, Kenny sensibly keeps the conversation centred on the conditions of the soldiers, sailors and airmen, curtailing Clonan’s riff on military service when it drifts into philosophical territory.
It’s actually Kenny’s second martial-themed item in as many days, following Monday’s interview with former officer Dan Harvey on the Irish Army’s role in the Troubles. But in the presenter’s hands, the topic of a dwindling military seems to have potential ramifications for us all.
More old soldiers’ tales can be heard during the Documentary on One: Finding Private Branch (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday), as producer and narrator Mary Elaine Tynan investigates a pivotal incident from her father Dick’s stint as a GI in the US army in the 1950s. A Dubliner, Dick had moved to California as a young man before signing up. While serving in Germany, he bonded with an African-American soldier named Howard Branch over a shared love of jazz, before falling out after a misunderstanding over – almost inevitably – race. When Branch died after an overcrowded truck crashed, Dick was wracked with a guilt that affected him long after he left the army and returned to Ireland.
As Dick revisits his experiences in necessarily subjective fashion, there are odd twists, leading Tynan to question some of the salient facts in her father’s story. It’s an absorbing premise, but with archive material thin on the ground, it ends up resting on emotion for effect, with a resolution that’s heartwarming rather than dramatic.
Ultimately Tynan’s documentary is neither war story nor detective tale but rather an affectionate portrait of a parent haunted by memories of his past. Personal battles often mean as much as national elections.
Radio Moment of the Week: High prices in low places
Following Tory politician David Davis’s assertion that people can spend sterling in Dublin pubs, reporter Barry Whyte investigates for the Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays). Whyte tells host Ivan Yates that he found no bars in the capital that accepted the British currency, except in the tourist hotspot of Temple Bar, where he orders a pint of stout from barman Roberto. “That’s €6.90,” says Roberto. Yates listens to the clip, and hones in on what is surely the most salient point. Noting that a pint costs €4.40 in his native Wexford, the gobsmacked host remarks, “For me the shocker is – €6.90 for a pint of Guinness!” No ordinary pint of plain, for sure.