He has been a government minister and bookmaker businessman, but Ivan Yates really sounds like he should have been a 1970s soccer player. It's not just that the host of the Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays) constantly talks about his support of Manchester City. His presenting style also has the characteristics of an old-school footballer from the era when men were men with big sideburns, not the pampered and preening players of today.
Behind the microphone, Yates marshals his guests like a tough-tackling midfielder: never shy of diving in, always intent on dominating the field of play. He's also fond of robust banter, especially during his weekly chats with former Liverpool star Phil Thompson (or "Tommo", as Yates almost exclusively calls him). So one might expect the host to be in his element when a multiple-winning English soccer coach appears on Tuesday's show. But when Yates interviews Emma Hayes of Chelsea FC Women, his approach unfortunately recalls another trait of 1970s masculinity: a Neanderthal attitude to the abilities of the opposite sex.
Yates starts off well with Hayes, who is promoting participation by girls in sport. He makes a fuss over her MBE and remarks that “she seems like great crack”. He even sounds positive about her desire for young girls to have role models. Then he gets to the question weighing on his mind.
“Where’s the evidence that lady coaches, sorry, women coaches are any good?” he asks. Slightly taken aback, Hayes calls this a subjective argument, but Yates presses his guest for concrete achievements: “Tell us about your titles.” “Well, I’ve got five of them in six years,” Hayes retorts. This, one would think, answers the question definitively, but Yates isn’t satisfied. “What are they, Vauxhall Conference?” he chuckles, referring to the lowest level of English men’s professional soccer.
It’s not quite patting his guest on the backside while calling her “love”, but it’s hard to think how Yates could be more patronising. Hayes hasn’t become a successful football coach by being cowed, however. “Of course you’d say that, Mr Facetious,” she retorts, dismissive rather than riled. Yates accordingly moves the discussion on. “What about female refs . . . are they good?” he asks, before rowing back slightly and adding that a lot of male referees “need to be sponsored by Specsavers”.
Again, Hayes replies firmly, citing the accuracy of the one female linesman (sic) in the English Premier League. Then, by way of context, she remarks: “As you know, there’s good broadcasters, male and female.” Conspicuously, Hayes doesn’t say whether she includes her host among them. It’s as if a jinky winger has just skipped past a feared but lumbering defender. Gooooaaaaal!
Of course, acting the dinosaur is all part of Yates's shtick. He variously calls himself "antiquated" and "an old fogey", while theatrically moaning about cashless transactions or station managers wearing jeans to work. He sounds even more bewildered when talking to Newstalk colleague Tom Dunne about the tragic death of Keith Flint, frontman with techno-punk pioneers The Prodigy.
Though the two presenters are of the same vintage, they could be generations apart. Dunne talks about the “mesmeric” Flint’s vocals on the Prodigy’s controversial smash Firestarter; Yates gets the name of both band and single wrong. “What’s rave?” he then asks, sounding so uncomprehending that a nonagenarian might think him a tad fusty.
Again, there’s a large element of Yates playing to type. Behind his bluster and pronouncements, he has a sharp analytical mind, particularly when it comes to political or business matters. His cocksure confidence can tip into boorishness, however. But as Hayes reminds him, Yates doesn’t always have to hog the ball, it pays to share it too.
If Arena (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) were a footballer, it would surely be a versatile utility player rather than a flashy star striker. Under the auspices of long-serving presenter Seán Rocks, the nightly arts show doesn't scream for attention, but performs its variety of unglamorous but essential roles with a pleasing consistency. If there are few on-air fireworks or bust-ups, it is largely because Rocks commendably focuses on the work rather than the artists themselves. But on any given night listeners are given access to creative pieces and genres that might otherwise pass by unnoticed.
On Monday, for instance, Rocks talks to the ickily-named DJ and sample artist Djackulate, aka Jack Dempsey McMahon, in an interview which takes a niche artform – scratching records on a turntable to create new sounds – and opens it up for a general audience. As McMahon demonstrates how he chops up audio samples by playing with a recording of his host, Rocks’s approach hits the right note: neither fuddy-duddy nor overeager to be down with the kids, but inquisitive and engaged. He also strikes a wry note after fumbling the phrase “forward slash”. “Please don’t sample that,” he jokes. With McMahon a helpfully articulate guest, Rocks de-mystifies turntable scratching to the point that even Yates might understand it.
A more reflective mood prevails on Tuesday, when the host interviews English poet Lavinia Greenlaw about her new collection on her late father's dementia. After slightly flubbing his opening by misnaming a poem twice, Rocks finds his pitch, deftly drawing his guest out about her personal loss and imaginative reaction. Greenlaw is softly-spoken and thoughtful, saying her poetry is as much about time as experienced by her father and herself as about illness. Rocks, meanwhile, is perceptive without being heavy-handed, occasionally fretting that his questions seem glib. (They aren't.)
The end result is a conversation that touches on the personal, the poetic and even the philosophical, without being arid or portentous. Instead, it’s gently revelatory: “Writing is how I translate experience and make sense of the world,” Greenlaw concludes. It’s a smartly understated and compelling piece of arts radio. Reliable, flexible and informed, Rocks knows how to get a result.
Radio Moment of the Week: Shay Byrne’s name shame
As early morning host of Rising Time (RTÉ Radio 1), Shay Byrne is permitted the odd mistake. Still, his introduction of reporter Petula Martyn for the business news slot is a doozy. "Petula Clark, how are you?" Byrne says, oblivious that he's confused his colleague with the singer until Martyn corrects him: "I thought you were being funny." She reassures Byrne that he's in good company: apparently newsreader Bryan Dobson has made the same error. Even so, as Martyn finishes up, Byrne redeems himself by playing Downtown, the 1964 hit by Petula Clark. "Apologies for getting it wrong, it will never happen again," says the embarrassed Byrne. Bet Dobson didn't say sorry like that.