What Irish broadcasting needs: more Bibi Baskins

Ray D’Arcy’s interview with former broadcaster shows what Irish radio is missing

In a week when RTÉ is stung by charges of a gender pay gap, a trailblazer for women broadcasters on the State network turns in a bravura radio performance, at the expense of her male counterpart to boot. Back in the 1980s, Bibi Baskin was the first woman to host her own television chat show on RTÉ. Now she bosses the airwaves with such irreverent energy that it underscores the absurd lack of women in high-profile positions on Irish radio, never mind the scandalous disparity in salaries.

The only problem with Baskin's appearance on The Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is that she's not getting paid for it. Indeed, as she tells her host, RTÉ shows no interest in employing her. She is only on air because D'Arcy is broadcasting his show from Clonakilty, Co Cork, near where Baskin lives.

But, as her host well knows, she is appearing at a timely juncture. Opening the show, he enthuses about the local sights. “I should be paying RTÉ to work here,” he quips, before drily noting the “uneasy laughter” among the audience in attendance. Sure enough, when he talks to Baskin, he goes straight to the issue of pay inequality.

Baskin sets a spirited tone from the off: “Are you going to take me on, mate?” Addressing the topic to hand, she believes in “the old principle of equal pay for equal work”, but adds that people with more experience should get more money. “So if, for example, RTÉ were to give me a chat show . . .” she muses, to much mirth. But she adds that such a development is highly unlikely. As for when she was actually working in RTÉ, she says she was well paid but “didn’t go around wondering what the men were getting”.


No shrinking violet

As might be gleaned, Baskin is no shrinking violet, either in person (she repeatedly refers to D’Arcy as “mate”) or in her career path: after a stint working in UK media, she spent 20 years running a hotel in India. Opining that Irish women seem short on confidence, she sums up her own credo as “what’s the point of being afraid?”

D’Arcy, for his part, describes himself as “a worrier”. If that’s the case, going out on the road does him the power of good. He sounds energised as he hosts a week of shows around the country. In Clonakilty, the lively ambience and zingy interaction with guests such as singer John Spillane and author Louise O’Neill contrast with the hidebound atmosphere that can prevail when D’Arcy is in the studio. Baskin is the highlight of the show, with D’Arcy sounding slightly overwhelmed if not intimidated by her personality. Only tentatively does he raise the famously rude story associated with his guest, involving a caller who told the late Gerry Ryan where he wished to be buried. (Google it.) Equally, however, D’Arcy is keenly aware of his guest’s abilities. “I know you’d be an asset to RTÉ,” he says.

But D’Arcy is unlikely to worry about losing his spot to Baskin any time soon. For every Marian Finucane there are any number of Bibi Baskins (or Carrie Crowleys), broadcasters who may once have flourished briefly but aren’t afforded the opportunity to make their experience tell in the longer term.

Even less audible

Over on Newstalk, women are even less audible than on RTÉ: astonishingly, Drive co-anchor Sarah McInerney is the only female presenter across the entire weekday roster. But with a generosity befitting a Saudi prince, the station gives women the chance to host shows on weekend mornings and evenings, for up to an hour at a time. Some of the presenters, such as Orla Barry of culture programme The Green Room (Newstalk, Saturday) have previously had daily primetime talk shows of their own, only to get shunted aside.

Others, such as Sarah Carey on Talking Point (Newstalk, Saturday) have had their already early slots pushed further down the schedule. Which is a shame, because Carey helms a stimulating discussion that deserves a broader audience than an 8am weekend slot can offer, when she tackles the ever-febrile subject of millennials and their supposed refusal to grow up.

Carey hears from James Kavanagh, a twentysomething whose job as a social media entrepreneur fits into the parodic "Generation Me" stereotype. On the face of it, he does little to dispel this image. When his host accuses millennials of being narcissistic, Kavanagh replies, "it's a great thing to love yourself."

Carey, a lively broadcaster who can veer from being perceptively counter-intuitive to wilfully provocative, handles her guest well. She notes that his answers will doubtless enrage older listeners but gives him the space to expand on his thoughts. (“I’m quite a loving person,” he adds.)

Pre-marital sex

Kavanagh's generation finds a more effective champion in psychologist and author Maureen Gaffney, a baby boomer who makes several telling observations about both millennials and her own peers. Gaffney characterises young people's comparative resistance to settling down as a "period of intense exploration", adding that if people used to get married younger it had something to do with the unavailability of pre-marital sex.

Gaffney also suggests that there is also a healthy side to narcissism, including standing up for yourself and your rights. It is in this area that she feels millennials exercise self-love, rather than expressing toxic feelings of entitled superiority. Moreover, Gaffney says this increase in assertiveness “has mainly been among women”.

It’s the kind of bracing point that makes discussions on shows like Carey’s memorable and worthwhile. Clearly, the airwaves could do with more assertive women.

Radio Moment of the Week: Communication breakdown

On Marty In The Morning (Lyric fm), Marty Whelan enjoys some banter with his traffic correspondent, "the great Elaine O'Sullivan". On Monday, O'Sullivan reports on delays to trains due to "mechanical issues". "When you say mechanical issues, does that mean it's broken?" Whelan asks, chuckling. When O'Sullivan fudges – "I'll leave that to the engineers" – the host delightedly suggests that a career in politics beckons. "It's broken," Whelan concludes, "let's call a spade a spade." For a presenter much given to his stream-of-consciousness style, it's unusually straight talking.