The best-groomed male in Newstalk? There’s no competition

Radio review: Paul Williams and Shane Coleman blend news and jocular slagging

Shane Coleman: he talked to psychotherapist Joanne Fortune about a survey that shows one-fifth of Irish teens get their sex education from the internet

Shane Coleman: he talked to psychotherapist Joanne Fortune about a survey that shows one-fifth of Irish teens get their sex education from the internet

 

Shane Coleman may be an accomplished radio performer, but he has a great face for television, at least if we are to believe his on-air partner, Paul Williams. On Wednesday, as the pair discuss the ongoing demand for male grooming products on their show, Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays), Williams suggests that his co-presenter is “probably the best-groomed male in Newstalk”. Coleman plays this down. “The competition is not stiff,” he notes archly.

Notwithstanding the bruised feelings of any other sartorially-minded station colleagues, Coleman’s statement is born of caution rather than modesty. Williams’s remark isn’t meant as a compliment. Rather, it’s part of the jocular slagging that is a key (and time-filling) element of the morning show. Williams certainly enjoys ribbing his co-host over his smart demeanour. “I had to push you out of the way this morning to get a look in the mirror,” he says. “You’ve said that already,” Coleman retorts. Williams, as is his wont, then attempts to be funny, making a gag about Conor McGregor punching the mirror after preening himself. (That’s the gag.)

Amidst all the bants, it’s easy to forget this is supposed to be a news programme. But when the attritional insults are put on hold, the show can yield thought-provoking items. Coleman sounds suitably appalled when he hears how school children are being bullied over their appearance. He talks to Deborah Ging of DCU about a survey that finds body image is the most common cause of bullying in Dublin schools. Ging is surprised at this finding: the study was commissioned to track homophobic bullying, but when it comes to taunting fellow pupils, body type apparently matters more than race or sexuality.

Coleman expresses concern that as a society we’ve become more narcissistic, with young people trying to emulate the fantasy “selfie culture” of the Kardashians et al. Thankfully, this doesn’t turn into a “why-oh-why” Jeremiad. Acknowledging that “we can’t turn back the clock” by banishing mobile phones and social media, Coleman asks about potential solutions. Ging ultimately apportions blame for the phenomenon to “neo-liberal capitalism”, which probably isn’t much use for parents fretting about their children.

The issue of unrealistic body images again crops up when Coleman talks to psychotherapist Joanne Fortune about another survey, which shows one-fifth of Irish teens get their sex education from the internet, essentially a shorthand term for online porn. Even for listeners inured to internet scare stories, it’s a sobering item. Fortune tells her host about 13-year-old girls getting full body waxes because “they think they’re supposed to have the bodies of porn stars”. If that isn’t alarming enough, she suggests that parents who warn their 13-year-old children about pornography are already too late.

Even for the normally level-headed Coleman, this is too much. “Are we living in a bit of a fool’s paradise – are we too permissive now?” he asks. His despair is audible as he ponders the pressure on young women caused by “ludicrous stereotypes”. It’s a bracing item, one that skirts tabloid sensationalism but ultimately alerts the audience to disquieting facts. Coleman may spruce himself up, but he prefers substance trumps style.

Sunday with Miriam (RTÉ Radio 1) carries further grim testament to the deceptiveness of appearances. Miriam O’Callaghan talks to Jessica and Eve, two women who survived violent abuse at the hands of their husbands. The cruelty they endured is dreadful, but the way their husbands turned from charming men to controlling, violent ones is equally terrifying. “He used to love me and care for me,” Jessica tells O’Callaghan. “Then I got pregnant and he changed.”

What follows is the stuff of nightmares, with infidelity followed by first psychological and then physical abuse, culminating in a horrific assault. But just as shocking is her husband’s indifference: he expected her to return from hospital and resume their life together; instead he was arrested and convicted.

Eve – not her real name – tells a similar story, leading up to a cataclysmic assault by her husband which would have been fatal only for her daughter’s intervention. But Eve also outlines why she never told people of her husband’s behaviour. “I lied to everybody, I almost believed them myself,” Eve says. “It was my only way of coping.” Both women talk of hoping that things will somehow change for the better. “You always want to get back to that nice period you had,” Jessica says, but concludes that “some people are beyond help”.

The apathy of the authorities’ response to their experiences is also frightening. An injured Jessica had to sit among criminals in court while her husband was arraigned. Eve cannot divorce her husband until she has been separated for four years, and requires his permission to get psychological help for her children, “even though he’s the reason they need it”. Jessica will have to regularly re-apply for a barring order against her husband when he is released later this year.

It’s a hard listen, but compelling and alas essential, underlining O’Callaghan’s commitment to raising awareness of domestic abuse. By way of a balm for her audience, she also interviews Mick Jagger. But it’s a bit perfunctory, from the host’s light questions to the guest’s vaguely interested answers: in every sense, the Rolling Stones singer phones it in. 

In contrast, O’Callaghan brings the full weight of her broadcasting nous to bear on her conversation with Jessica and Eve. At crucial junctures, she knows when to stay silent or press on, while her oft-mocked emotional warmth has rarely been more needed. “You’re wonderful, the way you told that story,” she tells Jessica. Well said.

Radio Moment of the Week: Telling his Owen story

In a week of highs and lows for Liverpool fans, from European wins to the tragic assault on an Irish supporter outside Anfield, former Reds striker Michael Owen’s appearance on Off The Ball (Newstalk) might be overlooked. But his interview with presenter Joe Molloy is as unvarnished an account of a top footballer’s career as one will hear, aided by Owen’s naturally understated manner. He is candid about his early confidence, his later doubts, and the way his stardom affected friendships and even family ties. Meanwhile, his account of his spell with Real Madrid dispels any sense of glamour, as he juggles soccer with family life and cultural differences. Owen’s voice remains monotone throughout, but the former Liverpool man provides a riveting glimpse of life as a sporting professional. And I’m an Everton fan.

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