Newstalk’s subs bench looking bare as Mark Cagney replaces Ivan Yates

Radio review: Gender balance is not the station’s only shortfall, especially compared with RTÉ

Mark Cagney: at some point Newstalk is going to have to give the stand-in gig on a flagship show to a female voice. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Mark Cagney: at some point Newstalk is going to have to give the stand-in gig on a flagship show to a female voice. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

Curiosity prompts me to break the habit of an Ivantime and tune into Newstalk’s drivetime show on Monday to see who is in for Ivan Yates, the station’s most-listened-to broadcaster, who retired last week from his macho-titled show, The Hard Shoulder.

Surely, I think, it’ll be a woman – at some point the station is going to have to deal with the lack of gender balance in its roster, and giving the stand-in gig on a flagship show to a female voice would at least signal a willingness to emerge, blinking, into the 21st century. No. The veteran broadcaster Mark Cagney, late of breakfast TV, is the stand-in, presumably until Yates’s permanent replacement is announced.

At the point I tune in there is an item on sleeping problems – with the obligatory mention of sleep hygiene (yawn) – followed by an item on why owning a dog is good for children with “Pete the vet”, or “Pedro”, as Cagney calls him in full-on Alan Partridge mode. I tune out for fear that next there’ll be flower arranging and top fashion tips. It’s like being swallowed by a daytime-TV sofa – not what I look for in a drivetime show.

Over on RTÉ, the summer stand-ins are mostly top-notch broadcast journalists plucked from elsewhere in the organisation, notably Sarah McInerney and Katie Hannon

It could be that the programme – a marathon at three hours long – is front-loaded with weightier topics, and that by the time I listen in it is winding down in a light, if not very interesting, vein. I tune back in later to hear Cagney sign off. He hadn’t, he says, had a chance to say goodbye to Yates, so plays him a song: Foo Fighters’ My Hero. (Sadly, I am not making that up.)

Gender issues aside, the choice of Cagney suggests a fairly bare inhouse subs bench at Newstalk, made all the more obvious because, over on RTÉ, the summer stand-ins are mostly top-notch broadcast journalists plucked from elsewhere in the organisation, notably Sarah McInerney, who has made the midmorning show an unmissable daily listen, and Katie Hannon, expertly helming a very lively week of Liveline.

My listening during lockdown – all those walks! – was mostly podcasts, so now when I turn on the radio, once I’ve had my fill of news and current affairs, I seek out solid, well-made programmes crafted to entertain, inform or both: documentaries, half-hour features, dramas – old-school radio that podcasts now do so well.

Actress (BBC Radio 4, Monday-Friday) is a daily 15-minute delight of the serialisation of Anne Enright’s latest novel, read by the author, whose delivery makes the story jump off the page.

Sharon Horgan is Lauren Laverne’s guest on Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4, Sunday), and their chat is easy and personal – starting with Horgan growing up on a turkey farm in Meath, moving on to her route into comedy writing in her 30s. “I’m trying to explore the parts of my life that I haven’t worked out,” she says of her comedy dramas – Pulling, Catastrophe, Divorce – explaining how she has borrowed from her own life for her scripts. “I’ve recently started therapy, and doing the normal person’s route rather than making a TV show about it.” The chat ends with the castaway choosing a luxury item to take to the island, always a most revealing choice. Horgan asks for a laptop so she could work.

Hamlet, Prince of Derry (RTÉ Radio One, Sunday) is a superb and intriguing listen for many reasons. In Colin Murphy’s new version of the great play (directed by Conall Morrison), Hamlet is a young buck kicking around modern-day Derry, picking rows with everyone, troubled and angst-ridden.

The broad story is the same, chunks of the original are missing, and the text is largely broken up to avoid lengthy speeches, although Shakespeare’s memorable lines survive, but not always in the mouths of the original characters. So Ophelia gets the “To be or not to be” soliloquy – spoken with great sadness just before a news bulletin announces her body is found in the Foyle. There are computer gaming sessions, Snapchat conversations and YouTube rants; for listeners who enjoy complex soundscapes (including original music by Si Schroeder), it is all terrific. The device of a newsreader (UTV’s Paul Clark) punctuating the breakneck action helps to orientate listeners.

Hamlet, Prince of Derry is such a radio natural that it comes as a surprise to learn it was originally an ambitious stage project – with the well-known writer and director working with actors from Stage Beyond Theatre Company, a Derry group for adults with learning disabilities. When lockdown happened, and the planned live performance in May couldn’t take place, RTÉ’s radio-drama department came on board, and the play was recorded by the cast from their homes, with sound supervision from RTÉ’s Damian Chennells and Ruth Kennington.

Dates fly by, from thousands of years AD to the 18th century, with the slimmest hope of grasping anything other than the odd nugget – pigs were so important that they were known ‘as the gentlemen who paid the rent’

Quirky, niche and so full of facts it can hardly contain itself, The Almanac of Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, Wednesday) is a sideways dive into Irish cultural traditions by Manchán Magan, who has the otherworldly air and softly spoken delivery of a mystic traveller about him. The first in the series involves a whistlestop tour through the history of farming; the dates fly by, from thousands of years AD to the 18th century, with the slimmest hope of grasping anything other than the odd nugget – early Irish dairy farmers made ricotta; the trade in pigs was so important for households that the pig was known “as the gentleman who paid the rent”.

A gear change in the second half sees Magan (who writes in The Irish Times) driving west in search of the Tír Sáile, the 14 sculptures of the North Mayo Sculpture Trail, Ireland’s largest public art project. He finds a piece called Acknowledgement – you could say you couldn’t miss it, as it’s 50m long – but I for one had never heard of it and was glad to. Situated on an unmarked burial mound, it is, he says “an elemental art experience”.

Radio Moment of the Week: Wily Willie O’Dea

“Pure comedy gold from Willie O’Dea,” says Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly (Today with Sarah McInerney, RTÉ Radio 1, Monday), reviewing the Limerick Fianna Fáil TD’s criticism of his Government’s bungling of travel rules and the pandemic unemployment payment. With his hand busy working the thermostat, the wily O’Dea had told McInerney: “I don’t want to raise the temperature by getting into emotional language.” O’Reilly has the lungs of a deep-sea free diver – even McInerney’s considerable skills have trouble stopping her – as, without taking a breath once she gets the mic, she broadens her criticism to take in everything about the Government. “I’m sorry he didn’t wait on the line to debate this,” O’Reilly says of O’Dea. I’d tune in for that.

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