The Ray D'Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) may not be to everyone's taste, but after the alarming story the host tells it's a relief to hear him at all. On Monday's show D'Arcy jovially reminds his listeners that a couple of weeks previously he had "a bit of crack with the pronunciation of 'wasp'" – a statement that stretches the definition of "crack", if memory serves – which he thinks left him open to karmic payback.
“Obviously the wasp community heard I was poking fun at them, so I was a marked man,” D’Arcy says. Sure enough, when out running the day before, a wasp – or quite possibly a bee, as it left its stinger behind – duly flew into his mouth and stung him.
It’s not the first time the presenter should have kept his mouth shut, but on this occasion it has painful consequences, in the form of a swollen lip. “It was scary enough,” D’Arcy says, adding he feels lucky it wasn’t worse. “Seemingly you can’t talk if you’re stung on the tongue,” he observes, before beating armchair wags to the punchline, “Says you, maybe that’s a good thing.”
Listening to Ray D'Arcy talk about rats the size of cats is like being stuck on the bus beside an overfriendly autodidact endlessly spouting banal factoids. And that's the exciting bit: elsewhere he ruminates about Irish stew
Ah now. You’d want to be a vindictive soul to wish D’Arcy silenced so cruelly. In fact he’s appealingly self-deprecating when recalling the incident: shouting a common excretory epithet helped expel the wasp from his mouth, seemingly. But having gained our sympathy with his anecdote, he squanders this hard-earned goodwill with the rest of his spiel.
On Tuesday, clearly unfazed at the possibility of upsetting the rodent community, a report about cat-sized rats invading homes in Britain prompts D’Arcy to muse on the subject. “You never heard anybody tell a story about a small rat,” he notes. There’s more. “That’s the other statistic, that you’re never more than nine feet from a rat,” he says.
By the end he’s commenting that the phrase “rats the size of cats” sounds like a Pogues song, and hums the imaginary composition. On paper this might come across as inspired stream of consciousness, but on air it’s more like being stuck on the bus beside an overfriendly autodidact endlessly spouting banal factoids. And that’s the exciting bit: elsewhere he ruminates about Irish stew.
D’Arcy’s various interviews likewise have an arbitrary feel to them. He’s animated when talking to the singer (and fellow Kildare native) Jack L, excitedly recalling old Aztec Camera B-sides, and impishly engaged when asking the geologist Siobhán Power about the volcanic eruption in La Palma: “Is that your Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston?”
Alongside that are perfectly pleasant but generic conversations with the celebrity chef Kevin Dundon and the celebrity hotelier Francis Brennan, as well as brief chats with sometime lottery winners, TikTok stars and retiring shopkeepers. None of this is objectionable, but nor is it memorable.
Even at its blandest Ryan Tubridy's show seems informed by his nerdy obsessions, from books to history. Too often D'Arcy's slot merely sounds like a bunch of items randomly cobbled together
Of course, all talk-radio hosts struggle to find interesting topics: just listen to D'Arcy's fellow Radio 1 luminary Ryan Tubridy. But even at its blandest Tubridy's show seems informed by his oft-trumpeted nerdy obsessions, from books to history. Too often D'Arcy's slot merely sounds like a bunch of items randomly cobbled together.
It doesn’t help that D’Arcy’s mobile phone goes off midshow, his ringtone informing the audience that an “unknown caller” is trying to reach him. “Sorry about that phone, very rude, it shouldn’t have been on,” he says sheepishly. Fair enough, accidents happen. But given the directionless drift of his show, it adds to the lingering impression of a top presenter distracted from the job at hand, if not actually bored by it. D’Arcy may have been stung, but it’s the listener who’s left numb.
Over on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays) Kieran Cuddihy seems ready to stir the hornet's nest. "Maybe you've got a view on public art," the host ventures on Wednesday, by way of triggering his audience on the promisingly controversial issue of a new sculpture erected beside Dublin City Hall. But while some texters predictably decry the new candlestick-shaped structure, inspired by a Victorian scandal involving nationalist gossiping about supposedly gay civil servants, Cuddihy's handling of the discussion is considered rather than contentious.
He asks Dublin City Council arts officer Ray Yeates about the appropriateness of the sculpture, and hears the Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan voice some criticism. Far from being a mud-slinging match, the conversation yields some intriguing insights, from the commissioning process for public art to the broader role of such works being provocative rather than commemorative. "I love the disagreements," says Yeates.
James O'Brien blames the UK's fuel woes on post-Brexit labour shortages. 'When we told people to go back where they came from in 2016, it turns out a lot of them did.' It's an enjoyably waspy conversation, exemplifying all that's best about Kieran Cuddihy's Hard Shoulder
Cuddihy uses his probing but open-minded template to good effect throughout. Interviewing Bishop Kevin Doran about his opposition to assisted-dying legislation, the host allows his guest to lay out his concerns but pushes back vigorously when he spots a weak spot in the argument. "Is it your contention that when people say the pain is unbearable, they're wrong?" he asks at one point.
The bishop, for his part, worries about vulnerable people feeling pressured to end their lives if such a law were passed, though Cuddihy doubts such a situation could arise in Ireland. “We’re well known for our monumental cultural shifts in recent years,” is the scornful-sounding response from Doran, an outspoken opponent of the marriage-equality referendum. Either way, it’s an instructive item on several levels, with Cuddihy more interested in hearing out his guest than talking over him.
Overall, Cuddihy has found his rhythm on his drivetime slot. Though his delivery is often framed by a note of wry scepticism, he easily changes gears depending on the subject. Talking to the journalist Sheila Naughton about her recovery from an eating disorder, the host is curious and empathetic but unafraid to ask awkward-sounding questions, which only adds to the frankness of the conversation.
Meanwhile, he riffs informatively about the UK’s fuel woes with the British broadcaster James O’Brien, who lays much of the blame on post-Brexit labour shortages: “When we told people to go back where they came from in 2016, it turns out a lot of them did.” It’s an enjoyably waspy conversation, exemplifying all that’s best about the show. It’s taken Cuddihy a while to get up and running, but he’s hit his stride.
Moment of the Week: Imelda May lobbies Liveline
On Wednesday the singer Imelda May phones Joe Duffy on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) to suggest that St Brigid's Day should be the much-mooted new national holiday. "Not necessarily the saint but also the pagan goddess," May stresses, so all can celebrate the occasion. That said, she modestly stresses this isn't her idea. "I just felt, like any member of the public, if you want something done, you call Joe Duffy like everybody else," she says, buttering up the host. Given this, it's a surprise that May doesn't suggest we have a St Joe's Day.