Newstalk's splenetic chorus rants on

RADIO REVIEW: THERE IS A SCENE in Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which the eponymous hero wakes up to find his home surrounded…

RADIO REVIEW:THERE IS A SCENE in Monty Python's Life of Brianin which the eponymous hero wakes up to find his home surrounded by disciples worshipping him as the Messiah. Appalled, Brian implores his would-be followers to think for themselves.

“You’re all individuals,” he shouts.

“Yes, we’re all individuals,” the crowd answers in unison.

“You’re all different,” Brian adds.


“Yes, we’re all different,” comes the massed response, apart from a lone dissenting voice: “I’m not.”

This droll yet perceptive celluloid moment came to mind last week, as Ivan Yates berated politicians on Tuesday's Breakfast(Newstalk, weekdays). The presenter excoriated Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore for dismissing calls for public-sector pay cuts by the ECB economist Jürgen Stark, before broadening his target. He characterised Irish politicians as "people pleasers" and let rip at the entire political class, saying: "In substitute for leadership, they provide followership."

It was clearly intended as a wake-up call for the audience, but Yates did not come across as a lone prophet of reason, à la Brian the reluctant saviour. Instead, he sounded like just another voice in the chorus of splenetic Newstalk presenters. Yates and his peers are so keen to prove themselves as fearless iconoclasts that contentious viewpoints and pundits now clog the station’s schedule. It’s got to the point where a wry yet reasonable presenter such as Sean Moncrieff sticks out like the meekly nonconformist crowd member in Monty Python’s film.

A former Fine Gael minister capable on occasion of intelligent debate and reflective opinion, Yates is far from being Newstalk's biggest rabble-rouser. Nor is Damien Kiberd, who may play to the peanut gallery on Lunchtime(Newstalk, weekdays) but who also has an analytical eye for economics and business.

Marc Coleman, however, always seems on the lookout for contrarian positions, though this approach can fall flat, as Tuesday's edition of Coleman at Large(Newstalk, Tuesday and Wednesday) testified. Initially, the omens for a humdinger were promising: among Coleman's guests were the journalist Eoghan Harris, not a man renowned for his consensual disposition, and Richard Boyd Barrett, the outspoken United Left Alliance TD. But the fireworks never materialised.

Harris was on to discuss the anti-republican speech he made at the annual commemoration of the IRA leader Liam Lynch. But despite describing Patrick Pearse as “mentally disturbed”, Harris never hit his stride. Nor did Harris and Boyd Barrett clash, despite their apparently opposing views on the public sector. Both saw Ireland’s main divide as ultimately being between rich and poor. “Surprisingly, I find myself agreeing with a lot of that,” said the TD after hearing out Harris’s opinions.

Coleman’s determination to stir things up meant that potentially stimulating ideas went unexplored. Harris’s biggest outburst was reserved for the host, who kept interrupting with observational red herrings. “Marc, are you going to let me talk, or are you going to go on?” said an audibly irritated Harris.

Undeterred, Coleman turned his attention to the meteorologist Evelyn Cusack, asking if the relatively mild effects of Hurricane Katia showed that climate change was “overhyped”. “By whom?” asked Cusack. “Maybe the media,” said Coleman, his conviction perhaps waning. He then trotted out the conundrum beloved of climate-change deniers: if the world is warming, how come our winters have been so cold? Pointing out the difference between weather and climate, Oisín Coughlan, of Friends of the Earth, said that such events were largely confined to Ireland; it was getting hotter elsewhere. Cusack agreed. The wind went out of the debate.

By largely relying on his guests to create conflict, Coleman's desire for controversy went unfulfilled. For those seeking a masterclass in spluttering indignation last week, there was only one destination: The Right Hook(Newstalk, weekdays). On Monday a businessman called the show to say he had been unable to recruit an intern to his firm, despite the Government setting up an internship scheme funded by "robbing" pensions, to use George Hook's term.

On Tuesday, Hook revisited the issue. He said that work, even if it was a waitressing internship paying €50 more than the dole, was better than unemployment, which ruined people’s self-esteem. He added that he himself had spent five years working in the US for no more than accommodation and expenses rather than go on the dole.

He then turned his ire on those doubting listeners who texted that such schemes benefited the employer more than the intern. “Does nobody value work?” Hook fumed. “Is work meaningless? Does nobody value doing something worthwhile? You can fume away and I’ll refund your text. It’s outrageous that there are people in this country who think work has no value.”

Hook’s diatribe was, at heart, deeply conventional. Far from buffing his self-image as a fearless truth-teller, his breathless delivery added to the impression of a grouchy bore. Ranting for a living: nice work if you can get it.

Radio moment of the week 

These days, even the most traditional of Irish events cannot escape modern mores. Reporting from the Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival for Today with Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Paddy O’Gorman met a 56-year-old Tralee man with no interest in the women around him.

“I think I’ve met someone from Thailand,” said the man, who had been single all his life and had yet to actually meet his betrothed, a thirtysomething single mother. Still, he hoped to see her in November and return home with her.

“Why would a 34-year-old woman from Thailand with a child come to Ireland?” asked O’Gorman. “I don’t know,” came the candid reply.

Mick Heaney

Mick Heaney

Mick Heaney is a radio columnist for The Irish Times and a regular contributor of Culture articles