It’s hard to believe, given that she has been a fixture in Irish broadcasting for more than two decades, that Maura Derrane had never worked in radio until less than a fortnight ago. And yet, listening to her stint as the latest presenter of The Nine O’Clock Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), it becomes easier to credit. She may be a seasoned host of lifestyle-television programmes, but even when Derrane is operating in a similar human-interest sphere her inexperience behind the microphone is evident.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Far from waltzing in with a media celebrity’s sense of entitlement, Derrane freely admits to her nervousness – informing listeners on her debut, for instance, that it’s her first time in a radio studio – which along with her propensity for personal anecdotes imbues her with an almost unguarded quality. This works best when she recalls having to ski off a mountain on a hang glider for a television report; as she remembers her fear and exhilaration, she has the confiding ease of a natural conversationalist.
Equally, Derrane’s spiel can be as pointlessly random as everyday natters, as when she talks about Sharon Horgan’s TV dramedy Bad Sisters before conceding that she’s never seen it. Meanwhile, she zips through her topics at near-breakneck speed, which may be down to an unfamiliarity with the rhythms of radio. At least it means that she wraps up her musings on the news in half the time it normally took Ryan Tubridy, the slot’s former full-time occupant. Small mercies.
Her interviews prove a weak spot, however. It’s not so much Derrane’s tendency to sometimes cut across guests – again, the different demands of radio may be at play – as the forgettability of her subjects. Her interview with the British broadcaster Julia Bradbury on the joys of walking is as worthy as it sounds, focusing on the minutiae of wellness rather than her guest’s story as a cancer survivor. And while chats about the clockmaking tradition of Drogheda and choral societies in Mullingar are divertingly informative, it’s not enough to anchor a show.
The longer the programme’s revolving-door approach to presenters continues... the greater the impression of a Radio 1 frantically scrambling to find anyone to replace the defenestrated Tubridy
In fairness, Derrane can only work with what she’s given. Moreover, as she finishes her two week spell on The Nine O’Clock Show, she has hardly been afforded enough time to find her groove. And therein lies the more fundamental problem.
The longer the programme’s revolving-door approach to presenters continues – Derrane follows on from a similarly brief turn by Brendan Courtney, who took over as stand-in from Oliver Callan – the greater the impression of a Radio 1 frantically scrambling to find anyone to replace the defenestrated Tubridy. In its current form, The Nine O’Clock Show is more like an audio showreel than a cogent programme. And while Derrane may well be a confident radio host in waiting, swapping out one Montrose stalwart for another to present a frothily generic chatshow hardly represents a bold strategy for the future. Right now, the rotating roster of hosts chimes with the uncertain atmosphere currently suffusing RTÉ: the auditions will continue until the morale improves.
That said, a spirited air pervades Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), notwithstanding the recent call by Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss, for Joe Duffy’s show to be axed. (Given the airline chief’s Marmite appeal, this hostility might prove a ratings boost.) Duffy certainly has a whale of a time on Wednesday, when he plays the part of a hapless mark for the purposes of exposing a scam.
As grifts go, Duffy does a good job convincing the con artist that he’s about to hand over cash for a bogus investment scheme, as “John” – who’s impersonating a real executive at AIB – lays out his fake scheme in credible detail. Eventually, the host stops playing the naif. “You know you’re a scam artist,” he says gruffly. “You’re rumbled, man.” Far from fessing up, the scammer plays dumb – “You’ve lost me” – but quickly hangs up. “Del Boy,” Duffy remarks scornfully. It’s the kind of gripping sting so beloved of consumer magazines and audiences, though it’s too late for some: as the host notes, John has “lost a lot of people a lot of money”.
Duffy ramps up the indignation, though he has to execute a screeching halt when a guest makes rash remarks about the former FAI boss John Delaney
There are more bright spots. Monday’s edition highlights the tokenism that can still surround women’s soccer, despite the recent World Cup heroics of the Ireland team. With former internationals due to be honoured with the commemorative caps hitherto denied them, Duffy hears from the pioneering women players who feel they’re being shortchanged by the FAI. Not only will the ex-players not be presented to the crowd at Saturday’s match between the Republic and Northern Ireland, but there aren’t even enough caps for them all.
Duffy ramps up the indignation, though he has to execute a screeching halt when a guest makes rash remarks about the former FAI boss John Delaney. After hurriedly apologising for the comments, the host urges his callers to “tread softly”. Far from derailing the discussion, however, the outburst merely adds a frisson to proceedings. There’s still much chaff on Liveline – the misuse of family car-parking spots will never set the pulse running – but Duffy gives a lesson in using a few choice items to lift a stalling show.
The value of a good story is strikingly displayed on Cloud City (Newstalk, Sunday), a rollicking documentary about the exploits of Irish immigrants in a Colorado mining town during the 1880s. Its producer and narrator, Pavel Barter, re-creates the lives of two men, a Limerick-born marshal and a Dublin-born union leader, to evoke the lawless frontier code that reigned in the appropriately named Leadville, where gunslinging was an everyday occurrence.
Helped by telling contributions from hard-bitten ex-cops and local notables, the documentary spins a vivid tapestry worthy of Sebastian Barry’s Wild West narratives, full of dramatic set pieces and grizzled characters, all the while emphasising the contemporary resonance of these old immigrant tales. If only all radio were so quick on the draw.