Radio: The night is not Derek Mooney’s natural habitat
Review: ‘Mooney Goes Wild’, ‘Drama on One: Deep’, ‘The Right Hook’ and ‘The Tom Dunne Show’
Hyperactively chirpy: Derek Mooney
Having departed the daytime schedules, Derek Mooney can now be found on the nocturnal airwaves, hosting a new show devoted to his trademark enthusiasm, the world of wildlife. And he could scarcely have picked a subject better suited to radio for the opening edition of the revamped Mooney Goes Wild (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday), as he hears the haunting tale of a mysterious singing whale.
From the off the show is awash with a baffling but strangely hypnotic series of high-pitched sounds whose precise meaning has long puzzled observers. And that’s only Mooney’s patter. His new show may ostensibly be concerned with the animal kingdom, but, as shown by the item about an elusive cetacean dubbed “the loneliest whale in the world”, the presenter’s hyperactively chirpy style vies to be the real centre of attention.
Mooney talks to Josh Zeman, a film-maker, about his quest to find “52”, a whale that has for 30 years swum the Pacific singing at the distinctive frequency of 52 hertz, a pitch no other members of the species can hear.
It’s a fascinating story, touching on topics as diverse as cold-war technology, the birth of the environmental movement and our tendency to project our emotions on to animals. But Mooney constantly cuts across Zeman with incongruously giddy riffs that border on the embarrassing.
“Why does he keep singing if he’s the only one who can hear himself?” Mooney cackles at one point. “I suppose you can’t answer that. You’ve never met him. Is it a him at all? It could be a she.” (Zeman calmly replies that only male whales sing.)
By the end Mooney’s wide-eyed approach is palpably grating. When he remarks that even if Zeman tracks down the whale he can’t actually ask if he’s lonely, his guest answers in the quietly exasperated tone of one obliged to explain otherwise self-evident concepts to a particularly literal- minded companion: “I think we can observe.”
That Mooney has a great interest in the natural world is not in doubt. Elsewhere on the show he talks animatedly with the apiarist Philip McCabe about the threat posed to honeybees by the small hive beetle, and Éanna Ní Lamhna’s report on UCD’s “bat lab” is zippy and informative. In such settings the presenter brings a welcome shot of irreverence to an area occasionally prone to the arid and the portentous.
But Mooney’s relentlessly frothy style is jarring in a night-time setting. An approach that may have made sense when trying to snag casual listeners in the fickle market of daytime radio sounds out of place on a show that, in both its niche focus and late time slot, is aimed at a more discerning audience. It’s early days, but Mooney has yet to hit the right note.
For listeners of a certain vintage Drama on One: Deep (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday) is music to the ears. Written and performed by Raymond Scannell, the play intertwines the fictional tale of a youthful raver, Larry Lehane, with the real-life story of the pioneering Cork nightclub Sir Henry’s, all to an evocative soundtrack of disco, house, reggae and soul classics. In its staccato cadence and headlong narrative rush, Scannell’s tragicomic monologue mimics the euphoric atmosphere of the underground club culture of the 1990s, as well as the bitter aftermath of its drug-fuelled heyday.
As an aural experience Deep is by turns exhilarating and poignant, right down to a techno-beat refrain that echoes everything from a seagull’s wings to a failing heartbeat. As a drama it is less even.
Originally a stage production, the picaresque story of Larry and his family is delivered at such a pace that over an hour it can become bewildering and exhausting. But Scannell imbues his work with a winning affection for his vividly drawn characters and his Leeside setting, and his wry wordplay more than compensates for any plot quibbles.
On Tuesday he hosts a largely approving item on the conservative Tridentine movement – which views the modern Catholic Church as a hotbed of wishy-washy liberalism – only to follow it with an interview that pitches ethics as a mere product of circumstance and Darwinian necessity.
The latter conversation, with the neuroscientist William O’Connor, sees Hook mix real curiosity – he seems genuinely intrigued at the notion that medication could alter our ethical outlook – with constant references to his personal experience. The problem with the latter tendency is Hook’s assumption that his guest is au fait with his preferences and prejudices, in particular his antipathy to bicycle users.
“Could you give me a drug that would make me like cyclists?” wonders Hook at one point. “That would make you . . . ?” comes O’Connor’s mystified reply. “Like cyclists,” Hook reiterates. Silence. “In terms of ethics?” O’Connor eventually responds. “No, my primary purpose is to get as many cyclists off the road,” Hook clarifies, his bravado audibly deflating. “Could you give me a drug to become more accepting of cyclists?”
The answer is yes, apparently, but after such a spectacular derailment it seems irrelevant. As with Mooney, Hook’s delivery lets him down. It’s all about the way you tell them.
Moment of the Week: Farewell to a friend
A bitter-sweet atmosphere prevails on Tuesday’s Tom Dunne Show (Newstalk, weekdays) as the host remembers the late journalist and broadcaster George Byrne, who was a regular film reviewer on the programme. Dunne thanks listeners for their tributes to Byrne, which helped him when giving the eulogy at his friend’s funeral. “I had 11 pages of texts and emails. Knowing I had that gave me a destination,” he says. He also plays a song by one of the journalist’s favourite bands, The Go-Betweens. “I’m never going to hear this bit of music the same way again,” says Dunne. Even Byrne, who was as caustic as he was witty, might have been touched.