Rocky restart for Newstalk as hosts struggle to land a punch
Radio review: ‘Breakfast’, ‘The Pat Kenny Show’, ‘High Noon’, ‘Newstalk Drive’ and ‘Sean Moncrieff’
Enda Kenny with Pat Kenny on Newstalk: the Taoiseach tells the host that he has “got his mojo back”, a phrase that draws so much mockery that Enda Kenny must wish he could lose it again. Photograph: Maxwells
The prospect of an all-new programme line-up at Newstalk has been generating fevered anticipation throughout the summer, on Newstalk at least, but on the very first day things get off to a rocky start. This is not a quibble about any nerves understandably betrayed by Paul Williams, the debutant copresenter of Breakfast (weekdays). Rather, listeners are treated to a blast of the theme from the classic boxing movie Rocky.
Shane Coleman, Breakfast’s coanchor, explains that the presenters use the music to motivate themselves. But the rousing score also sets the tone for what follows. Largely populated by loudly opinionated men, the newly revamped schedule projects such a macho image that Sylvester Stallone looks an effete aesthete by comparison.
Williams, best known as a brave and dogged but hardly subtle crime reporter, quickly overcomes his initial anxiety to settle into a self-consciously no-nonsense persona, eschewing highfalutin language to tell it like it is. He remarks that drivers have been “screwed” by road charges and suggests that people are getting “pissed off” with the Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan, who needs to “shit or get off the pot”. Whatever else, Williams can’t be accused of angling for a job on the BBC World Service.
Unsurprisingly, he sounds most comfortable sticking close to his beat, whether talking to representatives of the Garda Representative Association about possible industrial action or, on Thursday, to the Irish Times Security and Crime Editor, Conor Lally, about Dublin’s gangland feud. In both cases Williams drops his tough-talking rhetoric to concentrate on getting the story. It’s an approach that might prove more productive in the longer term.
Coleman is cast as the straight man, whether partnered with Williams or with Breakfast’s other rotating copresenter, Colette Fitzpatrick, who brings a more folksy feel to proceedings on Tuesday’s show. So far, however, Coleman is also the most impressive performer on Breakfast, his easy style masking a quiet authority. Covering the controversy surrounding Nama’s dealings in Northern Ireland on Thursday’s show, he makes the seemingly complex issue accessible. Like a wily trainer in the corner of the ring, Coleman offers perspective and wisdom while his copresenter risks wearing himself out.
Williams is at least a new addition to Newstalk’s weekday roster. For all the hype the seven hours of airtime that follow Breakfast are filled not by fresh new voices but by the all-too-familiar tones of three men – Pat Kenny, George Hook and Sean Moncrieff – with a combined age just shy of 200 years old.
Now extended to three hours, the remodelled Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays) opens with the host interviewing Enda Kenny. It’s a robust declaration of the veteran presenter’s heavyweight credentials, as he quizzes the Taoiseach in assured fashion, lighting on his guest’s admission that he didn’t enjoy the election. Enda doesn’t admit any vulnerability to Pat, but he does tell him that he has “got his mojo back”, a phrase that draws so much mockery that the Taoiseach must wish he could lose it again.
Kenny – the presenter, not the politician – shoulders the burden of a longer show without any obvious strain. Some of the filler material is best forgotten, however. The professionally offensive English columnist Katie Hopkins turns up to berate the obese for being too lazy to lose weight, a slice of gratuitous trolling that’s hard to stomach.
Hook, meanwhile, sounds reinvigorated as he opens his new show, High Noon (weekdays), promising all manner of new features. But it turns out to be business as usual for Hooky, as he repeatedly refers to himself. His fondness for bombastic editorialising and tiresome provocations is if anything more pronounced.
On Monday his opening discussion with the columnist Brenda Power about an English police initiative to make misogyny a hate crime soon turns into a drearily predictable rant about supposed PC blindness to misogynistic practices in Islam. The next day he encourages Enda Kenny to stay as Taoiseach by invoking the example of Winston Churchill’s leadership during the second World War.
The one unequivocally bright spot of the new schedule arrives as the day draws in, when Newstalk Drive (weekdays) makes its debut. Hosted by the erstwhile Breakfast presenter Chris Donoghue and the former Sunday Times journalist Sarah McInerney, the programme makes up for in clear interviews and analysis what it lacks in exaggerated banter or swaggering opinion.
Donoghue may not act the alpha male, but he marshals the programme impressively. He is well briefed and terrierlike, as displayed during his interview with the Labour TD Alan Kelly.
McInerney, in her first stint as a presenter, doesn’t project an obviously resonant on-air persona but is rigorous in her style: she allows a Donald Trump campaigner the space to berate Hillary Clinton but then calls him up on the dodgy views of Trump. The pair seem to be forming a formidable partnership.
Some Newstalk presenters, at least, can pack a real punch.