In a classic episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, the eponymous star, Jerry, approaches television executives with an idea for "a show about nothing". It's a phrase that came to describe his own hit series about four aimlessly self-obsessed New Yorkers. It's also a pretty apt summation of The Nicky Byrne Show (2FM, weekdays), which revels in celebrating the mundane and pointless, albeit without Seinfeld's meta sensibilities, or indeed its wit.
Six months into his 2FM tenure Byrne shows no sign of growing into his role as a daytime-radio presenter. As from the off, the former Westlife singer comes across as an effortlessly convivial chap who enjoys an effervescent on-air relationship with his cohost, Jenny Greene. But as he whoops and chuckles his way through three hours of eye-watering banality, he hasn't noticeably broadened his presentational palette.
On Monday Byrne and Greene swap tales from their weekend, in the process dispelling any illusions about the glamour of their lifestyles. Byrne tells of visiting a football tournament and his wife’s mishap in backing up her smartphone. Greene recounts her horror at encountering a nude male sunbather on a Dublin strand.
The pair spin out the latter incident – admittedly unusual – almost hysterically, prompting all manner of tittering remarks, such as “I don’t want to step over someone’s beach balls.” As Greene shows a photograph of the nudist to Byrne – but not to the listeners, obviously – they explode in conspiratorial giggles: entertaining for the presenters, doubtless, but self-indulgent. Greene’s characterisation of the sunbather as being “spread out like a starfish” is an ickily evocative image, but is a rare flash of inspiration.
Otherwise, Byrne promises a “big show”. What follows suggests a shaky grasp of scale, as listeners are canvassed in order to find out whose car has the highest mileage. While the results can impress in a factoid kind of way – one car clocks more than 500,000 miles – it’s all conducted in a relentlessly hyperactive monotone. When one caller says she doesn’t know the make of her car, disbelieving hoots ensue. “Brilliant,” says Greene. Really?
In fairness, Byrne and Greene – whose name remains shamefully absent from the show’s title – aspire to buzzy excitement rather than more mature staidness, and their cheery disposition and lack of snark are attractive. But framing prosaic subjects as the acme of hilarity wears thin, like a sitcom with too much canned laughter.
Over on The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) the prevailing chirpiness briefly darkens on Tuesday, as heroin addiction and prostitution displace the usual frothy lifestyle items and quirky human-interest stories. Murray talks to Antonia Leslie, of the family who own the storied Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan, about her drug experiences. Although ostensibly prompted by the revelations about the late Peaches Geldof's heroin use, Leslie's account is less cautionary tale than picaresque short story.
Speaking in rather mournful tones, Leslie recalls how she started taking heroin as a near-vagrant teenage punk in late 1970s London, explaining how her use of narcotics was driven by the transgressive, confrontational urges of the punk scene. Then, in a move straight out of a Jackie Collins bonkbuster, she escaped drugs by hanging out with the ski set in France – not an option open to most inner-city addicts – only to follow the example of her new chichi friends and move into casual prostitution and, from there, back into addiction.
Leslie spins oddly elegiac vignettes that conjure up both the scuzzy idealism of early punk and the self- destructive decadence of the would- be beautiful people. She’s also fatalistic rather than moralistic about drugs, suggesting only age and error bring wisdom: “Through time and distance you see that this god you worshipped was a false god.”
A strangely amoral undertone holds throughout, which may explain Murray’s minimal questioning style and rather perfunctory conclusion. But he deserves credit for hosting such a compelling item.
John FitzGerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute appears on Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays) to deliver some salutary facts about the economy. Talking to Ivan Yates about a new ESRI report, FitzGerald says that the fruits of the country's recovery are being enjoyed by about only 100,000 people, mainly educated professionals, with no trickle-down effect in evidence.
And although the report apparently supports the cherished narratives that Ireland maintained its welfare rates at the expense of "the people in the middle" who "paid for the recession", to quote Chris Donoghue, the show's cohost, FitzGerald posits some caveats. When Yates suggests welfare recipients were spared the worst, his guest replies that as their money went down, "I don't think anyone on welfare would say they're protected." FitzGerald notes that civil servants have fared worse since 2008 than private-sector workers, thus puncturing another hoary myth, that of the pampered public service.
Yates rightly points out that by comparing like with like, the ESRI research misses the biggest losers, the 330,000 who have lost their livelihoods since the crash. But the interview, though brief, provides vital food for thought. It certainly makes a change from talking about nothing.
Moment of the Week: Highway to Kells?
Hands down, the week's most bizarre encounter takes place on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) when the presenter talks to Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DC. That the interview is about Johnson's passion for cars only adds to the oddness. But the most surreal moment comes when the grizzled hard-rock superstar asks Kenny for tips on driving around Ireland, as he intends to visit with his wife. Whatever next? Ozzy Osborne inquiring about the best country houses?