Pat Kenny looks in as Ivan Yates bows out

Newstalk’s morning host’s unguarded admission underlines his good mood, while his opinionated colleague retires with honesty

Despite Ivan Yates’s retirement it’s business as usual, as the Newstalk presenter  grills his guests with his usual gruff impatience during his last week on air. Photograph: Newstalk

Despite Ivan Yates’s retirement it’s business as usual, as the Newstalk presenter grills his guests with his usual gruff impatience during his last week on air. Photograph: Newstalk

 

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? If so, it turns out that creepy sensation of being observed from afar may not be in your imagination, at least if we’re to believe a faintly alarming interview on Wednesday’s edition of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays). There might actually be someone peering in at you: Pat Kenny.

The startling revelation comes during an otherwise unremarkable conversation with novelist Sheila O’Flanagan. Asked how she’s coped with lockdown, the author describes the difficulties of not engaging with people in daily life, prompting Kenny to go off on an astonishing tangent. Where some people are happy working out at a gym, the host says, he prefers to exercise in a less confined environment.

“I have to be out and about,” he continues, “looking in people’s windows and seeing what telly they’re watching. I have to be stimulated by something other than the task at hand.” Well, that’s certainly one way of keeping things interesting.

It’s not as if Kenny has let himself go totally. He is reliably forensic in his interview with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney

To be fair, Kenny’s statement is clearly meant as an expression of his casual off-duty side. But like so many instances when the host tries to prove that behind his stiff image he’s really a swingin’ cat, it merely causes a collective cringe. O’Flanagan, to her credit, doesn’t pass any remark at her host’s odd admission, though there’s surely a plot for a novel in there somewhere. 

In fact, the instance once again suggests that Kenny has been rather enjoying his pandemic experience, as a broadcaster at least. He’s in relaxed form during his chat with O’Flanagan, chuckling ruefully as their Skype connection fails repeatedly.

“We can’t go on not meeting like this,” he quips. O’Flanagan, meanwhile, disparages snobbery towards her bestselling novels, suggesting they are as serious as any literary fiction. “I like to explore how people deal with life-changing situations,” she says. Neither guest nor host have to point out the obvious corollary.

A similarly laid-back atmosphere prevails when English novelist David Mitchell talks to Kenny from his Co Cork home on Tuesday. After an opening barrage of mutual admiration – which the author handily wins, complimenting Kenny’s “beautifully polished, grammatically complete sentences” – conversation turns to Mitchell’s new novel, Utopia Avenue, about a struggling rock band in 1960s London.

The host shows off his knowledge of vintage folk-rock before speaking almost wistfully about how the novel’s setting of Soho has changed. Where once the London neighbourhood was a seedy, licentious area – “a transgressive, liminal zone” in Mitchell’s phrase – Kenny muses it’s now so gentrified that the worst thing you can get is “a dodgy kebab”. Perhaps mercifully, given his other unguarded remarks, he doesn’t expand on how he knows all this.

It’s not as if Kenny has let himself go totally. He is reliably forensic in his interview with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. Likewise, his command of detail is evident during his conversation with Kate Bingham, chair of the UK’s coronavirus vaccine taskforce. He’s even congratulated by his guest for grasping her medical points. “You should be doing my job, you’ve got it in one,” Bingham exclaims. “No, no, no,” replies Kenny, deploying his best “aw shucks” manner, though he’s audibly chuffed.

The pandemic may have curbed his ability to check out other people’s fenestration, but otherwise Kenny has been in his element.

Pleased and perplexed

A celebratory mood also reigns, albeit briefly, as Ivan Yates spends his last week as presenter of The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays). On the Tuesday before his retirement from broadcasting, Yates sounds both pleased and perplexed as he tells listeners of receiving a cake from Dr Cara Augustenborg, his regular contributor on environmental matters.

Augustenborg is adamant that he eat it during their weekly conversation: as they chat, she informs him the flour is made from crickets. Far from retching, Yates gamely munches on, attesting to the cake’s tastiness.

It’s one of the few moments when Yates acknowledges his impending retirement, but it also highlights how there’s more to his approach than growling irritation. For all that he mugs his way through Augustenborg’s discussions on biodiversity and sustainability – on Tuesday she talks about insects, hence the unusual cake – the fact that Yates has hosted a slot on green matters is a credit to his curiosity: it was Newstalk’s first such regular segment, he says with misty-eyed pride.

Yates’ honesty shouldn’t be surprising: despite his gleeful on-air provocations, he ultimately sought candour from his various guests

Generally, however, it’s business as usual, as Yates grills his guests with his usual gruff impatience. When HSE chief executive Paul Reid is vague on expenditure figures, the host metaphorically rolls his eyes: “You’re sticking to a blank cheque, which disappoints me.” But when Yates interviews former Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe and his wife Lorraine, he lets his feelings slip. 

The McCabes describe the smear campaign against Maurice for his whistleblowing on policing standards in Co Cavan, and the decade-long ordeal that followed. They are dignified while Yates, a champion of their cause, provides a sympathetic ear – an unusual role for him. He also sounds dubious about Garda culture, likening it to the priesthood.

But Yates also thinks that the McCabes’ comparative reticence speaks of deeper scars, referring to his experience of bankruptcy-related litigation to draw them out. He talks about the impact of legal proceedings, suggesting that “to survive, you bury things deep inside you”.

“You don’t look as if you’ve a care in the world, but as soon as I probe invasively it all comes back,” he suggests to his guests. When Maurice admits he was on medication for a time, Yates replies that he too was once prescribed anti-depressants.

It’s a raw glimpse of the man behind the opinionated broadcaster familiar to listeners. But Yates’ honesty shouldn’t be surprising: despite his gleeful on-air provocations, he ultimately sought candour from his various guests. Speaking to the McCabes, the presenter alludes to his own emotions after his own long-running case was settled: “You could get on with your life,” he says. 

As Yates moves on, the airwaves will surely be duller, if nothing else.

Radio Moment of the Week: Just the facts

A long-running feature of Seán Moncrieff’s show (Newstalk) is his “Fact of the Day” slot, with its slogan, “Bet you didn’t know that now, did you?” On Tuesday, not even Moncrieff knows it. Having played the intro jingle, he remarks: “I can’t find where I wrote down fact of the day, that’s your fact of the day.” Belatedly, he uncovers the nugget in question, about asteroids in the Star Wars movies being made from potatoes, before playing the jingle over his own voice.

“You are listening to the Moncrieff show,” he laconically concludes. “You can probably spot that from the incompetence that runs through it, thanks to myself.” In other words, Moncrieff fact up.

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