It's fair to say that Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has had its share of jarring moments down the years. But there's a distinct air of discombobulation on Tuesday, as the show's perennial introductory line – "Hello, good afternoon and you're very welcome to Liveline" – is delivered in a voice that is different yet instantly familiar. After the music ends, the more customary tones of Joe Duffy appear, sounding particularly chuffed: "I've waited 40 years for Larry Gogan to say that."
Duffy thus clears up the momentary confusion caused by hearing the unmistakable voice of Gogan, the venerable 2FM DJ whose departure from the airwaves – the analogue ones, anyway – had earlier been announced. "Is that congratulations or commiseration?" Duffy asks, in reference to his guest's retirement from 2FM rather than his presence on Liveline. In fairness, as Duffy hosts a tribute programme to Gogan, he is alive to the bittersweet nature of the occasion, which sees the long-serving disc jockey feted across RTÉ all day as he leaves national radio for the digital outlands of RTÉ Gold.
Gogan himself sounds as positive and modest as ever, even as he reveals that he is undergoing dialysis. Friends, family and celebrities all voice their admiration and love for the man, though Boyzone members Ronan Keating and Keith Duffy also find time to talk about their most recent album. Perhaps the most poignant aspect, however, comes when Gogan has to remind Duffy that he will still be broadcasting. But there is a genuine warm glow to the show, underlining the paradox that while Gogan was heard by fewer people in recent years, he remained the most popular man on Irish radio.
The latter title is unlikely to be bestowed upon Ivan Yates any time soon, not that the presenter of The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays) cares much. On Wednesday, he starts his show by bemoaning proposed strike action by the Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation, saying that its pay claims are unjustified and would trigger a return to "ATM benchmarking" in the public service. For good measure, he adds that nurses aren't graduates, a claim which prompts a flurry of furious texts.
That Yates should take such a forceful line with nurses, arguably the most admired people in Irish life, shows that he’s not courting popularity, at least not in the conventional sense. Having reminded the audience of his no-nonsense credentials, he goes on to decry the sensitivities of theatrical luvvies and pampered millennials. Given that these twin demographics are among the lowest-hanging fruit in the grumpy old man universe, this is not as fearless a move as it seems. Far from being a lone dissident voice, Yates is playing to the gallery.
An open letter complaining about the Abbey Theatre providing less work for Irish actors prompts Yates to question the need for a national theatre, while he also hosts an item bashing the supposed “snowflake” tendencies of the young. His ostensibly soft targets turn out to be made of unexpectedly hardy stuff, however.
Talking to actor and director Alan Stanford, now based in Pittsburgh, Yates complains about taxpayers subsidising theatre, wheeling out the old straw man argument that "a hospital is more important than the arts". But Stanford is robust in his rebuttal. It may be a valid argument to claim arts funding is unnecessary, he says, but "it's a particularly stupid one". Stanford points to Ireland's outsize artistic contribution, and dismisses charges that the theatre world is a mediocre self-admiration society as "a concerted attack by the 'I could just do it myself just as well' brigade on artists". It's a bracingly unapologetic defence of theatre and the arts in general.
Similarly, when Yates tackles the supposed fragility of young people with Harry McCann, student and founder of digital media start-up Trendster, it’s more evenly balanced than anticipated. Though McCann trots out tropes about the inclusivity and creativity, it’s Yates who triumphs in the cliche stakes. His thesis mainly consists of tired generalisations about millennials being “wimps and wusses”. McCann sounds by turns annoyed and amused as he rejects the claim that his generation want free housing: “I just don’t want to live in a shoebox.” As for being unable to take criticism, McCann is defiant: “I hate being called a snowflake for saying I’m unhappy about a situation.”
If the perpetually fulminating Yates sees any irony in complaining about people for always giving out, he doesn’t say so. Instead, he takes delight in such spirited verbal jousts, and why not? It makes for great theatre, and he doesn’t even have to pay for it. But such encounters tend to distract from his more substantive items. Yates’s interviews with Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald about Brexit and with Prof Anthony Staines about the nurses’ strike are considered and informative, but are, alas, less memorable than name-calling.
There's no such drama on Leaders Questions With Stuart Lancaster (Newstalk, Saturdays), which has the former England rugby coach applying his sports experience in a wider context. Along with presenter Ger Gilroy, Lancaster interviews various business personalities, but it has all the zippy appeal of a motivational seminar. This is no coincidence: Lancaster, now assistant coach at Leinster Rugby, got the idea for the show after appearing on a podcast with an American motivational speaker.
For those who like their leaders gung-ho, the programme is a disappointment. Management speak rather than stirring rhetoric is the order of the day – "the art of leadership is trying to influence" is a typical soundbite – bogging down a potentially interesting conversation with Eir chief executive Carolan Lennon. Gilroy gamely tries to inject some vim into his questions, but the show founders on the stolid persona of Lancaster, who betrays little in the way of emotion. He's not keen to share memories of England's disastrous time at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, "because it's too painful to be honest". Tearful candour is not Lancaster's style.
What could be a stimulating show ends up a misfiring hash. Whether one is spinning discs like Gogan or stirring the crap like Yates, personality is no barrier to popularity. But it helps to have one.
Radio Moment of the Week
Kelly’s modesty in vein
Ciara Kelly, host of Lunchtime Live (Newstalk, weekdays) discusses the disturbing phenomenon of unsolicited selfies of male genitalia being sent to phones. Talking to Irish Times journalist Tanya Sweeney, Kelly avoids the icky term "dick pics" – "it's a bit too much" – but when she refers to consensual sexting and "saucy things in that vein", she cracks up laughing. "My producer is looking horrified because I said 'vein'," she says. Kelly duly goes on to regularly repeat the word, with considerable glee but diminishing effect. Mercifully, there's no item about arteries hardening.