Panti sets out her stall for a TV gig in radio’s twilight hours
There are gems and junk aplenty on late-night radio, from challenging chats to tunes
Pantisocracy is essentially a TV chatshow on radio. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
There’s a certain anarchy to late-night radio, fuelled by Red Bull-drinking taxi drivers, night-shift workers, insomniacs and procrastinating students. That divilment is evident this week with a new “late-night cabaret of conversations”.
What a difference a couple of years makes. It seems like only yesterday that Panti Bliss was embroiled in #Pantigate with RTÉ. Now the drag artist has a night-time radio programme on RTÉ Radio 1 called Pantisocracy (Wednesday).
Is anyone better pitched as a presenter than a “national f***ing treasure”? (Her words.) Pantisocracy is essentially a TV chatshow on radio – and surely, at this stage, it’s a precursor to just that. There are moments when the production could be a little slicker, but this is a programme that understands the simple things that make good radio: smart people talking about interesting topics, all steered by a presenter as capable as the guests.
Those guests include the surfer Easkey Britton, discussing her time in Iran, along with the writer and actor Mark O’Halloran talking about his experiences there. O’Halloran decided to go to Iran after seeing his doppelganger, its former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on television saying that there were no gay people in the country. “F*** that,” O’Halloran thought. “I’m going to go to Iran and find the gays.”
Thus followed a fascinating conversation about gay culture in Iran, where O’Halloran found himself asking where homophobia comes from. “Homophobia and misogyny are the same thing,” he concludes.
Late-night chat can sometimes meander, but this skips along. Panti pulls at the threads of conversations, deftly tying together seemingly disparate topics. There’s a chat about diversity in Canadian classrooms from the actor and musician Maria Doyle Kennedy, a conversation in which Panti excels at the skill of positive interjection.
“It’s almost annoyingly perfect,” Panti says of Canada. She describes a time when she was in an eastern town, “the Nova Scotian version of Tourmakeady”. Even in this relative backwater the local bookshop had a “lesbian health” section.
“I had a Canadian boyfriend for a while,” O’Halloran adds, “and we never had good, proper arguments.”
“Is ‘Pantisocracy’ a real word?” Doyle Kennedy asks. Panti says yes: “It’s a form of government or a way of organising society in which every member is equal.”
Of course, the foundation of late-night Irish talk radio is not discussions about the Iranian gay scene but shouty phone-in shows. Even they seem to get softer in the summer, however.
On The FM104 Phone Show with Chris Barry – sample tag lines: “The Bitch Is Back” and “SHOCK TALK” – on Wednesday, Barry seems to have given up. Instead of roaring he plays clips from Mrs Brown’s Boys. When he tries to get a rise out of one caller, who is on to praise Brendan O’Carroll, Barry is swiftly shut down: “We’re always right, us mammies.” You can’t argue with that.
From old dears to youngsters, and with Chris Greene not around for Chris and Ciara (2FM, Sunday-Thursday) Ciara King has been drafting in cohosts. The station sometimes falls into the trap of shows designed by committee, lurching towards the middle ground at every opportunity. But, left to its own devices, Chris and Ciara can be cracking, with the energy that late-night radio requires, and great chemistry between the presenters. Without that twosome the show stumbles at little, but on Wednesday there’s the welcome addition of the whip-smart comic Joanne McNally.
Unfortunately, late-night radio can also be a repository for items that wouldn’t get on air at any other time, or perhaps shouldn’t at all. In programming aimed at young people idiocy is often mistaken for edginess. And, sadly, Chris and Ciara is spoilt by a crude and unfunny segment with some eejit who calls himself the Galway Player plugging his social-media platforms and giving advice on the etiquette of having sex with women in their parents’ houses.
While King tries to steer the conversation into a vaguely palatable area, the Galway Player ends with a tip about bringing a woman’s parents a gift, a gesture that he feels says “thanks for creating this wonderful princess . . . so I can bang her”. Juvenile and ignorant doesn’t begin to cover it.
Too much late-night talk can be a bad thing, which brings us to the tunes this week. One of the most dependable music shows on national radio is The Paul McLoone Show (Today FM, Monday-Thursday), which motors along just fine without inane observations or forced listener interaction.
McLoone tends to lean heavily on the brooding-hero line that stops at Pearl Jam, The National, David Bowie and Bob Dylan. Still, where else on mainstream Irish radio will you hear Christine and the Queens, Warpaint, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, as is the case on Tuesday night?
Farther from the middle ground Cian Ó Cíobháin continues his nightly eclectic musical educations with An Taobh Tuathail (RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, weekdays), a programme that thrives even when the world has Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music at its fingertips. The keys, of course, are O Cíobháin’s curation and the trust he instils in listeners.
As a sunny Monday turns into night, Bon Iver, Pavement, Fourt Tet and Deaf Joe rattle through the wireless.
Moment of the week: Depressing trolls
Michelle Marie, who was recently tweeting from the @ireland account, was subjected to a barrage of horrific racism that is now depressingly familiar from angry white men on the internet. On Tuesday she speaks to The Anton Savage Show (Today FM). Marie’s resolve and strength are admirable. Her racist, sexist attackers should be ashamed of themselves.