Radio: Freewheeling Pat Kenny takes off in awkward directions

Review: The Newstalk presenter tries an invigorating new way into work, but embarrassing old habits emerge when discussing sensitive topics

All broadcasters worth their salt aspire to take the road less travelled and be different. But it's understandable when, faced with the relentless demand of filling airtime, they end up taking a more familiar and trusted direction. Even so, when someone as experienced as Pat Kenny opts for a route he takes every day – literally, a report on his commute – it's tempting to think he's running out of ideas.

As it turns out, the audio record of his trip into work, on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), is one of Kenny's most entertaining items in yonks. The twist is that he travels in by bicycle (or, more precisely, by electric motor-assisted ebicycle), a method that takes him outside his comfort zone, with invigorating results.

Kenny being the meticulous pro he is, this is no open-ended meditation on the joys, or otherwise, of cycling but a project with clear goals. Informing us that the journey from his Dalkey home, in south Co Dublin, to the Newstalk offices in Dublin city centre normally takes a half hour by motorbike and an hour by car, he wants to see how long an ebike will take.

At first Kenny waxes lyrical, describing the “beautiful morning” and the people he passes. Soon, however, another side emerges, as he complains about the “extraordinary” fact that Dún Laoghaire’s new landmark, the Lexicon library, is not open on a Sunday.


Later he sounds delighted as he sees a duck and three ducklings cross a busy road. But never one to be blinded by image, Kenny adds a note of caution: “Let’s hope they survive.”

All along, the accompanying ambient noise adds immediacy, particularly as the traffic audibly increases. When buses fly by, Kenny sounds alert, noting he is “mixing it with the big boys”. He spots every obstacle and misdemeanour, from cars parked in bike lanes to “slowpoke” cyclists obstructing his progress. By the end he is preaching greater consideration for cyclists.

As for travel time, it take 40 minutes. “Not bad,” he says. Not bad at all: it’s good to get off the beaten track now and again.

Back in the studio a more recognisable Kenny returns, by turns informed, inquisitive and toe-curlingly awkward. On Wednesday, for example, he interviews Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council of Ireland about her concerns that the new sexual-offences bill contains no definition of consent. Kenny rightly presses O’Connor on her objections, but he uses terms and scenarios ill-suited to the sensitive subject.

He asks about cases where both parties are “incapacitated by alcohol” when an alleged sexual assault occurs. When O’Connor says that in the UK the law says you have to seek consent, Kenny wonders if that is “real life”. What happens if two drunk people meet, end up in bed and “something happens that maybe one or other party regrets the next day”?

O’Connor curtly points out the difference between regret and rape, but Kenny has other worries. He muses that while gender equality is otherwise sought “in every aspect”, in this instance the onus for consent is exclusively on men. “That does seem like an unequal equation, even though, as you point out, most of the victims are female,” says Kenny, effectively answering his own question.

By the time Kenny ponders possible confusion arising from "rough" sexual situations "informed" by kinky books such as Fifty Shades of Grey – "What is yes and what is no and when does no always mean no or does it sometimes mean yes?" – you want to cover your ears out of embarrassment. (O'Connor's reply is simple: "No means no.")

The next time he considers heading in this direction, Kenny should apply the brakes.

Over on The Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) the host is apparently so eager to win over audiences that he's prepared to make himself sick. Not deliberately, to be fair. On Wednesday D'Arcy extols his lifelong love of milk, which he says started when he was breastfed as a baby. ("I don't know if it's the kind of conversation you should have with your mother," he adds.)

But the prospect of drinking camel’s milk has momentarily soured his taste, as he keeps talking rather than sampling the drink. He finally bites the bullet and, with much glugging and munching, tries it in coffee, in porridge and on its own.

The result is underwhelming. D’Arcy can discern no difference between cow’s and camel’s milk. “I’m sort of disappointed on your behalf,” he tells listeners. “I thought I was going to retch.”

Instead there is an interview with Eddie Hobbs, which may have the same effect on some. The businessman and consumer advocate talks about his role as chairman of Renua, the new political party, but also spends much time fulminating about his absence from RTÉ radio in the decade since Rip-Off Republic, his hit TV show for the network.

“There was a fatwa in the ether,” Hobbs says darkly. “Ah, come on,” says an incredulous D’Arcy, who probes his guest on his “conspiracy theory”. Hobbs concedes that he was not formally blacklisted from airing his views on public matters. Indeed, he adds that for much of the time in question he presented other television shows for RTÉ.

Could it be, D’Arcy asks, that Hobbs was on TV so much that having him on radio was just overkill?

“Could be,” replies Hobbs.

His shocking allegations somewhat deflated, the encounter peters out. By the end D’Arcy is vainly inviting his guest to sample the camel’s milk. Some presenters will try anything to be different.

Moment of the week: Talk to Aine?
On News at One (Radio 1, weekdays), RTÉ's health correspondent, Fergal Bowers, finds his report drowned out by the opening credits of Liveline, which blare away 15 minutes early. "Sorry for that breakthrough," says the host, Aine Lawlor, calling the interruption "a little technical glitch". Could Joe Duffy's phone-in show be hinting that it needs an extra quarter-hour for its rants?