Radio: Matt Cooper’s tough talk trumps Ryan Tubridy’s geniality
Review: ‘The Ryan Tubridy Show’, ‘The Last Word’, ‘The Weekend on One’
Matt Cooper: the Today FM host’s persona is hardly that of a rabble-rouser, but he does stir up disagreement
Radio is the most intimate medium, according to industry wisdom, the form of communication that allows listeners to feel that a broadcaster is speaking directly to them.
By this criterion, at least, Ryan Tubridy is a master of his craft. When he takes to the airwaves on The Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) he really can seem just to be chatting with the audience. Affably, pleasantly, utterly forgettably.
Whether he’s enthusing about TV dramas, recommending a thriller or recounting an interesting fact he stumbled across, Tubridy has an easy manner that fits his post-rush-hour slot. But while singing the praises of the new season of House of Cards may make for diverting water-cooler chat – “I can say, without qualification, it’s the best series yet,” Tubridy declares – it’s inane fare for a broadcaster this week revealed as RTÉ’s top earner.
On Wednesday his predilection for talking about his favourite shows goes into overdrive, exacerbated by the TV-themed quiz he hosts all week. As well as his Netflix viewing he refers to two other crime dramas – on BBC rather than RTÉ to boot. (Of course, he works for both networks.)
He doesn’t neglect breaking stories, however. He tells us that Harrison Ford is to star in a new Indiana Jones movie in 2019, “which is exciting news”. Short of swapping his microphone for a Bakelite receiver, Tubridy couldn’t sound any more like he’s phoning it in.
The banality of this patter is only accentuated by his diversions into other realms, as when he refers to his visit to a children’s hospice. Although Tubridy sounds genuinely moved, by sandwiching his testimony between show-business stories he veers close to bathos, however inadvertently.
His better qualities as a broadcaster emerge in more delicate situations. In another abrupt change of gear he talks to Michelle Ross, a beauty blogger whose brother Derek took his own life last autumn. It’s a difficult story, particularly when Ross tells how Derek went to the emergency department after an earlier suicide attempt, only to be sent away with an appointment for two months later.
Although Ross is baffled at this catastrophic breakdown in the system, Tubridy looks at it through a more personal prism. “That guy is not a number: he’s a guy who’s fragile and can’t wait two months,” he says.
Later, when Ross tries to describe her emotions after hearing of Derek’s death, Tubridy helps her along. When she says her heart “just broke in two” he adds that “all you can do is cry and empty out the waterworks”. These emollient words are undercut by Ross’s starker recollection: “I was lying on the ground screaming.”
Tubridy handles the interview with sensitivity, and he deserves credit for focusing on a painful subject. The item underlines his empathy for grieving guests. But it also highlights his tendency to shy away from controversy, such as the hospital failure, even when it serves the wider story. Tubridy’s geniality doesn’t always make for memorable radio.
Matt Cooper’s persona is hardly that of a rabble-rouser, but he does stir up disagreement. The discussions he hosts on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays) often feature guests of sharply contrasting views. Even if they argue at cross purposes, as when the Independent TD Mick Wallace and the security analyst Declan Power debate neutrality on Tuesday, it ensures lively exchanges.
Oddly, however, Cooper’s strongest items aren’t built around staged confrontations. On foot of a survey showing that most employees in the private and professional sector work longer than their contracted hours, Cooper talks to Karen O’Flaherty of recruitment firm Morgan McKinley.
For O’Flaherty the survey results are positive, showing, she says, that Ireland has a “highly motivated and committed” workforce.
Cooper sounds more doubtful. “Hold on,” he says. “Is that being taken advantage of by employers?”
O’Flaherty demurs, countering the charge with unconvincing words such as “flexibility”. Only her fleeting use of the dread term “globalisation” and her admission that “there’s a perception you have to work 24/7” hint at the anxiety about job security that also drives such unpaid work.
Cooper doesn’t push his guest, but it’s a revealing portrait of the self-serving rhetoric used to downplay the ever more unstable labour market.
Cooper’s interview with the historian Ruth Dudley Edwards about the Easter Rising centenary is even more thought-provoking, if not indeed provocative. Edwards, who made her name with her revisionist biography of Patrick Pearse, is calm and considered as she explains her opposition to the physical-force ideology of the 1916 leaders. But there’s no doubting the strength of her views about this “toxic legacy”.
She is not dogmatically negative about the Rising, however. She acknowledges the “selflessness” and even “genius” of some 1916 leaders, while praising the inclusiveness of the commemoration events.
“We’ve come a long way,” she says, “but we have to go further.”
If nothing else her appearance is a tonic to some of the official platitudes about the Rising.
Only once does Cooper ruffle her feathers, when he reads out texts suggesting that his guest is anti-Irish.
Not so, Edwards says. Despite her best efforts she can’t stop writing about Irish history. “I’ve tried to learn the truth,” she says, “and I think that’s pretty damn patriotic.”
Now that’s fighting talk.
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