Radio review: Alison Curtis proves a little politeness can go a long way

The Today FM presenter is only slightly bland as she takes over from Anton Savage

Alison Curtis may frequently talk about her Canadian origins, but she's more reserved when it comes to voicing national pride. Pressed into service as the host of Mid Mornings (Today FM, weekdays) after the abrupt exit of Anton Savage, Curtis opens Wednesday's show by surveying a vaguely scientific map that allegedly shows what each country in the world is best known for.

After discovering that Ireland is most famous for its working conditions – a factoid that surely prompts grim chuckles among many listeners – Curtis wonders about her native land’s traits. “Politeness and being slightly bland?” she ventures. (The answer is Facebook addicts.)

Such self-deprecating patriotism makes a welcome change from the wave of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” tub-thumping sweeping Canada’s neighbour, but it’s also a description that might be applied to Curtis’s style.

Her interview with actor Patrick Bergin is pleasant but nondescript, with her opening question making it clear she isn't a disciple of Jeremy Paxman's inquisitorial style. "Very mild out there, isn't it?" she asks. "Tepid," replies Bergin, and that pretty much sums up what follows.


Curtis fares better elsewhere, however. She sounds a tentative note as she introduces sex therapist Margaret Dunne: "I've been worried about this," Curtis admits. It quickly becomes clear why. Anyone of a genteel disposition must be blushing as Dunne bandies around phrases like "penetration" and "lubrication" with unfettered ease, while relaying instructions for "locating the G-spot" as though she were reading a cake recipe. "I'm not usually this explicit," Dunne says, though as she sounds this warning twice, it's hard to believe her.

Wincing embarrassment

But Curtis makes a good foil for Dunne, conducting their conversation with a balance of curiosity and wincing embarrassment. It’s a different approach to the metaphorical raised eyebrow that often accompanied the same slot during Savage’s tenure, and all the better for it. “Margaret, that was quite something,” the host says at the end of the item, her relief palpable.

Curtis sounds happier dealing with the frothier subject of biscuit preferences. Having somehow avoided the delights of custard creams during her years in Ireland, she samples them for the first time, but is unable to hide her disappointment. “Maybe I’ve destroyed my palette with hot beverages over the years, but I’m not getting too much,” she says. She scores it six out of 10, but remains true to her national character: “Am I going to offend anybody?”

Fretful courtesy and frivolous filler may not translate into “radio gold”, to use the phrase Curtis wryly employs at the end of her custard cream taste test, but all told, she makes a decent fist of her stopgap tenure.

That her material has a gossamer-weight quality and that she plays considerably more music than her predecessor is testament to her regular stint on Saturday mornings, where the atmosphere is necessarily more relaxed.

Moreover, it cannot be easy to suddenly shift gears when shunted into the weekday morning lane without warning. But as was the case when she helmed the same slot after Ray D’Arcy’s equally unexpected departure two years ago, Curtis finds her feet, gradually adapting her understated humour and engaging amiability to her new environment.

It would be nice to hear her get a longer run, to hear if she could make it her own. Just allowing her to brand the slot with her name rather than a generic title would be a start. As it stands, with loud voices and strident opinions increasingly ruling the airwaves, the polite and only ever so slightly bland Curtis stands out.

Too much detail

A bit of decorum wouldn’t go amiss during Sean Moncrieff’s interview with Baz Ashmawy on Tuesday. Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays) talks about his fellow broadcaster’s television work and social media preferences, but for the most part, their conversation focuses on vasectomy, a subject discussed in rather too much detail.

The father of six children, Ashmawy is understandably interested in curtailing his reproductive qualities. But he is anxious that after the procedure “you might lose some of your vigour” and worries that what might be euphemistically called the act of emission will also cease.

Luckily, Moncrieff is there to allay such fears. “I’ve had the snip,” the host remarks chirpily. For good measure, he informs his guest that he has also had his vasectomy reversed, in comparison to which “having the snip is like a nice pleasant walk on Stephen’s Green”.

As Moncrieff recounts this experience, the conversation veers between excruciated sympathy and tittering technicalities, with terms such as “meat and two veg” and “the whole enchilada” gleefully deployed.

The ardour-lessening nature of the discussion means it avoids descending into tired laddishness. And both men are quick to acknowledge that such procedures are as nothing compared to the gynaecological experiences of women. In fact, leaving aside the icky detail, it’s an entertaining segment, with host and guest clearly enjoying each other’s company.

But where such encounters were once a regular fixture on Moncrieff’s show, they’re more at a premium now, as the quest for offbeat items pays diminishing dividends. The subsequent item, an interview with a Swedish trade union official about the phenomenon of mansplaining is a stilted affair, aside from the irony that the discussion only features men.

Shorn of an hour’s airtime after Newstalk’s recent reshuffle, Moncrieff seems to focus on the quirky more than before, narrowing the appeal and energy of his show. There’s more than one way of losing your vigour.

Radio Moment of the Week: Corrigan’s Brexit blues

London-based Irish chef Richard Corrigan is a stimulating guest on Sunday with Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1). Whether he is telling Miriam O'Callaghan about his dyslexia, his work ethic or his love of foie gras, Corrigan comes across as a forthright man of integrity. It's evident in his attitude towards Brexit.

“A part of Britain voted out, a part of the marginalised, disenfranchised voted out,” he says, “and a lot of other ones who you wouldn’t invite around for dinner, being honest.” As an immigrant with a largely foreign staff, Corrigan isn’t about to forgive the verdict.