If Today FM was any more lifeless, you’d need to call 999

Dermot and Dave’s show is good-natured, aimless and generic, like Today FM itself

Seizing on every passing factoid: Today FM’s Dermot and Dave. Photograph: Today FM

Seizing on every passing factoid: Today FM’s Dermot and Dave. Photograph: Today FM

 

Back when British music broadcasters were figures of admiration and influence rather than objects of derision and suspicion, the BBC Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis was famous for delivering lengthy monologues about whatever was on his mind, on one occasion in the 1980s speaking for 20 minutes about his local fire brigade. These self-indulgent spiels caused consternation among BBC management, but were seen as the unavoidable price of having a broadcaster who, his conviction for indecent assault being decades away, commanded millions of listeners.

Ah, for the glory days of radio. Listening to the aural toe-jam that passes for a topic on Dermot and Dave (Today FM, weekdays), a soliloquy on beloved first responders now seems like a Proustian meditation on existence. Moreover, as Dermot Whelan and Dave Moore seize on every passing factoid to squeeze out more airtime, they marvel that listeners are interested in material of exquisite inconsequentiality. “Favourite hob rings,” says Whelan on Tuesday’s show. “Who knew this would be the topic that gets Ireland talking?”

Who indeed? The real wonder, however, is Whelan and Moore’s ability to stretch out a premise as flimsy as one’s preferred cooking burner. With producer Maria Devereux acting as the straight woman, the duo jokily dissect every conceivable aspect of the subject, such as whether one should refer to “top and bottom” or “front and back” rings.

Even as Whelan characterises the topic as “sadult”, they hear from listeners such as Rory, a repairman who reckons that the “front large” hob is most used. Throw in a few pop hits, the inevitable double entendres – front large, oo-er – and before you know it, the best part of an hour has passed.

It’s not the paucity of this segment that’s striking, however. It’s that this is the highlight of the day’s show. Things go more awry when the presenters attempt to discuss world affairs, or at least the cancellation of ITV tabloid talk programme The Jeremy Kyle Show, following the death of a guest. Moore and Whelan have the overly solemn air of school messers in the headmaster’s office as they discuss the story with station news editor Sinead Spain. The item sounds forced, while having all the informative content of a casual watercooler conversation.

The duo otherwise seem to exist on a diet of phone-in competitions, internet trivia and self-consciously bad jokes, which, to be fair, are actually pretty funny. All of which is fine, except that this is the mid-morning time slot that used to anchor Today FM’s daytime schedule.

Under previous incumbents such as Ray D’Arcy and Anton Savage, the slot provided some heft between the evergreen Ian Dempsey’s reliably bouncy breakfast show and the midday frothy pop filler shift currently filled by Muireann O’Connell. No longer. Though Dermot and Dave’s show is good natured, occasionally diverting and undeniably amusing, it also comes across as aimless and generic, much like Today FM itself. If the station’s programming were any more lifeless, you’d need to call 999.

Golden era

How Today FM must wish for a return to the golden era when the effortless popular touch of D’Arcy pulled in huge ratings. Indeed, D’Arcy himself may look back wistfully on those halcyon days from time to time, given how his radio career has flatlined since joining RTÉ. His afternoon programme (The Ray D’Arcy Show, RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has been criticised in this column for lacking spark and even interest, qualities he displayed in abundance during his long residency on Today FM. Now and again, however, the presenter provides a welcome indication that he can still host more than consumer items and fading celebrity interviews.

On Wednesday, he talks to former Republic of Ireland footballer Richie Sadlier about sex education, with particular focus on sexual consent. On foot of an Irish Times article by Sadlier, D’Arcy hears how his guest, now a psychotherapist, teaches sexual-health classes at his old secondary school, where he has been struck by how rarely the topic of consent is discussed by teenagers or parents.

It’s not a particularly uplifting conversation, but it is measured and thoughtful. Sadlier talks about the problems caused by lack of awareness about consent and the perils of predatory sexual activity, but isn’t unduly alarmist or pessimistic. D’Arcy, meanwhile, asks pertinent questions but weights the conversation with enough personality to keep it interesting.

Sexual encounters are “part of life’s rich tapestry”, the host ventures, before asking, “Are you taking the fun out of it?” No, says Sadlier, so long as everyone communicates with each other. D’Arcy, long a critic of clerical influence, concurs that silence is part of the problem. “We are still getting rid of the oppression of a different time, when sex was bad,” he says.

A more upbeat portrait of contemporary Ireland emerges from his interview with former High Court judge Bryan MacMahon, who has presided over swearing-in ceremonies for new Irish citizens since retiring from the bench. MacMahon runs through his ceremonial speech for D’Arcy: in the process he delivers an impromptu lesson in civics and a ringing affirmation of diversity. New citizens, the former judge says, should not forget their origins, as “their songs and stories” will enrich this country.

MacMahon is also alive to the challenges of multiculturalism, however. He calls the experience of asylum seekers in direct provision “the other side of the coin”, and acknowledges that attitudes toward immigration have hardened, a development that concerns D’Arcy too. But despite such caveats, the overall result is positive and even poetic. MacMahon recalls seeing a woman of African ancestry in tribal dress walking to church one grey Sunday morning: “Suddenly you’ve got the privilege of a brush of yellow paint and you splash it across, like a rainbow.” Such moments brighten up D’Arcy’s show too.

Radio Moment of the Week: PC Kelly goes too far

As host of Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays), Ciara Kelly refreshingly eschews the wilfully adversarial approach of some station colleagues. But when interviewing Green Party TD Eamon Ryan on public transport, Kelly is conspicuously enthusiastic in her agreement with his proposals.

“I love it when a politician comes on so I can rubbish them,” she says, “but every single thing you’ve said there makes infinite sense”. In fairness, Ryan’s ideas are sensible, but Kelly sounds close to sycophancy: “You’re having too many good ideas today, Eamon, you’re destroying me on air.” Political correctness gone mad, indeed.

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