Like the angelus and spice bags, I’ve given up trying to comprehend Liveline

Joe Duffy's RTÉ Radio 1 show scratches an itch listeners barely even knew they had

Joe Duffy: for better or worse, Liveline has been triple-stitched into the fabric of Irish society

Joe Duffy: for better or worse, Liveline has been triple-stitched into the fabric of Irish society

 

While Today FM has just come through their latest deck reshuffle (more of this below), it’s fair to say that Joe Duffy’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays, 1.45-3pm) is probably going nowhere.

After a shuddering global apocalypse, you could easily put your house on the fact that Duffy will be there for the aftermath, ‘hmmming’ at Bridie from Roscommon with the minimum amount of effort that can feasibly pass as politeness as she moans about having no roof anymore.

Sometimes, Liveline is an indispensable slot that thrums with anger, urgency and the rhythms of a nation; April’s item on birthing stories was one of the most seismic of the year. But let’s be fair, Liveline offers the listener the chance to hit a G spot (that’s G for “gripe”) that other shows simply can’t reach.

Could Joe Duffy sound any less engaged or enthused? Only if he were dialling the show in from Barbados during happy hour

Tuesday’s show offered Paul the chance to express his shock and disquiet at seeing a Scientology van parked up at the Tinahely Show, while another listener was getting a makeover in Arnotts, when her handbag was swiped from under her nose (Duffy: “Frances, what happened? Arnotts!”). Monday, meanwhile, saw travel agent Linda express her vexation at the Aer Lingus website, which doesn’t provide a “Ms” option in the salutation box (just “Miss” or “Mrs”), while Anne’s house is under attack from vicious seagulls, effectively nullifying any grand day for the drying.

Along with the angelus and spice bags, I’ve long given up trying to comprehend the evergreen, idiosyncratic appeal of Liveline. For better or worse, it has been triple-stitched into the fabric of Irish society.

And really, could Duffy sound any less engaged or enthused? Only if he were dialling the show in from Barbados during happy hour. This week, however, I came close to comprehending.

Liveline is a triumph for the little men (or women), who collide into hundreds of microaggressions as they go about their everyday lives. There’s likely not another country in the world that devotes time to these quirks and complaints, and this “only in Ireland” marker turns out to be the show’s greatest strength. Duffy rarely offers a resolution or catharsis, wisely turning the centre of the stage, and therefore much of the spadework, over to Anne or Frances or Paul.

And when Liveline’s listeners articulate their discontent about traffic cones or post office queues or young people on their phones, the listener is likely to agree. We are united in our displeasure. These gripes scratch an itch the listener barely even knew they had. And when it comes to radio, who can say better than that?

Those behind the microphone have often been cast as oracles. Removing a presenter permanently does carry with it a sense of the ground shifting underneath the feet

There’s probably a good reason why broadcasting personnel shakeups elicit a frisson of excitement and/or hullabaloo. We like to think in Ireland of radio as a sort of constant and solid entity, where the cultural and social gatekeepers of the airwaves slip easily into the listener’s daily schedule. Those behind the microphone have often been cast in the role of authoritative oracle, or just professional conversationalist. Removing a presenter permanently from their position does carry with it a sense of the ground shifting underneath the feet.

It’s not often that a broadcaster completely loses confidence in a presenter: instead shakeups attempt to rattle some energy into the schedule. But there are are only a finite number of slots. Try telling that to Muireann O’Connell (Today FM, weekdays, 12pm), who took to Twitter to note how “sad” she was after being “fired” from the station. JNLR figures are hardly the most scientifically accurate of methods, though we tend to habitually slobber over them; in any case, it was a case of unfortunate timing for Today FM as Muireann was up 3000 listeners.

News that Mairead Ronan, currently ensconced in the 6am-9am slot, would take over O’Connell’s show only appeared to fan the flames, with both women nearly breaking an ankle in a race reiterate that there’s no bad blood whatsoever between them. Wouldn’t happen if either were a man. But anyway.

The Lunchtime bag of tricks is the sort of energy that Today FM needs – chicken soup for the ears

Claire Beck proved an able mike-warmer for Today FM’s Lunchtime seat in O’Connell’s absence this week, happily turning her hand to items on a spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous. From the things that bother cinemagoers and gaffes in the workplace to a look back to Oasis’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh barnstormer in 1996, the Lunchtime bag of tricks is the sort of energy that Today FM needs – chicken soup for the ears. O’Connell’s lack of self-consciousness is often the secret spice that brings this all together, making puerile topics passably engaging.

Beck, formerly of the Phantom/TXFM parish, might lack O’Connell’s assured conversational warmth, but brought enough vim and enthusiasm to keep the show on the road. Will incoming slot-filler Ronan prove every bit as affable, or is she likely to polarise listeners? Time will tell. Today FM probably hope so, at any rate.

Elsewhere on the station, Louise Duffy departed from Today FM’s evening slot to make way for Ed’s National Anthems (Today FM, weekdays, 7-9pm). It was a strong start for station stalwart Ed Smith, who exacted a decent balance of loose-limbed humour and sleek smoothness with the nous of an insider.

The playlist of “National Anthems”, meanwhile, was eclectic to the point of confusion: Janelle Monae, Ocean Colour Scene, Kasabian, Liam Gallagher and Michael Kiwanuka all rubbed shoulders on Tuesday’s show. Diverse is fine, encouraging as it does a listener to keep listening in the hope that their particular sonic itch will be scratched, though it probably does little to help Smith’s slot settle on a singular identity.

Radio moment of the week: Corpsing

It could happen to a bishop, but instead it happened to Doireann Garrihy on Tuesday (2FM, weekdays, 6am-9am). While aping Daithí O Sé, Garrihy corpsed several times over two minutes, seemingly unable to get over how authentic her impression of the Kerryman was – and to be fair, if your ears squinted, they could feasibly be one and the same. Corpsing on air is often a presenter’s worst nightmare, but the fast and loose nature of Garrhiy’s show with Eoghan McDermott meant that it all went fairly unnoticed and normal service was resumed post-haste. Well, normal-ish.

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