No topping the dead donkey story


RADIO REVIEW:AS HOT-BUTTON topics go, the publication of topless photographs of a woman married to the heir to a foreign throne might not seem to be a particularly pressing issue for a country racked with recession. But for much of last week the decision of the Irish Daily Star to publish the paparazzi pictures of Kate Middleton was a ubiquitous subject across the schedule.

Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday) hosted a perfunctory joust between the former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond and the Star’s now-suspended editor, Michael O’Kane. There was a lengthy discussion about the matter on Monday’s Today with Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). The next day George Hook spoke with the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole on The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays). With varying degrees of clarity, all these items invoked the balance between press freedom and privacy rights, or the public’s right to know versus the commercial imperatives of tabloids.

It took Colm Hayes (2FM, weekdays) to distil all this commentary and extract a single lesson. “Breasts are all over the place,” he chirruped as he opened Wednesday’s show, citing the Middleton snaps, as well as the appearance of the former Miss World Rosanna Davison in Playboy magazine. Having established this fact, Hayes invited his audience to comment, only to discover that, despite their ostensible titillation value, breasts make for dull conversation.

The presenter wanted to hear from men whose daughters had posed topless – Davison’s father, Chris de Burgh, had stated his pride in her decision – but he had to settle for Kate, an earnest mother of three girls who spoke about the ephemeral nature of physical beauty and the importance of the mind. Hayes acknowledged all this but, perhaps conscious that it didn’t make for riveting radio, changed tack by focusing on the ubiquity of bikini-wearing models at product launches and photocalls.

With Hayes incessantly repeating the phrase “scantily clad females” – had it been the keyword in a drinking game, listeners would have been legless by lunchtime – the practice was derided by Mary, a marketing professional living in London, causing Derek Daniels, a model-agency boss, to step up to the plate in response.

“You used to look after [the Irish model] Georgia Salpa, so you’ve seen her scantily clad many times,” said Hayes. “As has the rest of the nation,” replied Daniels gallantly. He went on to defend such tactics with the lame old canard that “sex sells”.

As the programme sputtered to an end, it showed how a seemingly controversial topic can be a dud if people don’t take the bait. Still, it established one thing: if young women parading in swimwear is the Irish business world’s default marketing ploy, no wonder the economy is bust.

Moving swiftly along, Ryan Tubridy (2FM, weekdays) eschewed the subject of breasts in favour of talk about asses. In previous weeks the presenter had been following the progress of Agnieszka Jablonska as she travelled around Ireland on foot, accompanied only by her donkey, Mucci. Jablonska had undertaken her journey in memory of her late partner, Maurice Sullivan, who was mauled to death by dogs in Malaysia last year, and she regularly regaled listeners with heartwarming tales of people’s generosity on the road.

On Tuesday, however, the tone was melancholy. Jablonska, clearly distraught, recounted how Mucci had injured himself while trying to jump a fence, twisting his urinary tract so badly that he had to be put down. “I loved this donkey, I truly did,” she said, breaking down. “I just find it very unfair.” Tubridy initially made awkward attempts to comfort her: “As if it wasn’t bad enough what happened to you in the first place,” he said, stating the somewhat obvious.

But compassion soon trumped cold professionalism, as he asked his guest if she wanted to stop talking. She didn’t, but it was a gesture that stood to Tubridy’s credit. By the end she composed herself, trying to take the positives from her experience, such as learning from the “stoic and patient” character of her donkey. But there was no hiding Jablonska’s grief. “The universe is definitely not giving me an easy one,” she said. It was hard to disagree. Odd as it seems, Mucci’s story had more human interest than the Middleton saga.

Over on The Right Hook, meanwhile, Hook’s Monday slot with the American shock jock Michael Graham was given a lift by the one-off appearance of the liberal radio host Lesley Marshall, providing welcome relief from the usual rabble-rousing of her compatriot.

Whereas Hook enjoys rambunctious banter with Graham, Marshall attempted to counter her fellow American’s jibes about “global-warming kooks” more substantively. Graham responded by either changing the subject or aiming barbs at his opponent. Cracks about her underwear may have been intended as jokes but seemed more like a little desperation.

Hook, who for all his grouchy worldliness comes across as an effete liberal when jousting with Graham, sounded smitten by his new acquaintance. “She’s smarter, has the right kind of politics, is infinitely better looking, and she’s cheaper,” he said. “Graham, you’re on a short leash.” At the very least Hook might consider Marshall as a counterfoil to the rantings of his right-wing boob.

Radio moment of the week:Malapropisms are an inescapable element of radio vox pops, but even allowing for this, Henry McKean elicited a doozy for his report on last Monday’s Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays). Commenting on Labour’s performance in government, one elderly gentleman expressed his disillusion in memorable terms. “If Jim Larkin was alive today,” he told McKean, “he’d be spinning in his grave.”

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