What with the way things are, not everyone wants to start their day listening to the accounts of racist rampages, child stabbings and devastating wars that dominate talk radio, so it’s no surprise that Today FM’s morning offerings are enjoying a ratings surge. Certainly, for the five hours that The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show and Dave Moore are on air each weekday, the woes of the world aren’t so much dispelled as determinedly ignored. Both hosts preside over a carefree cavalcade of laughter, quizzes and buzzy hits, strenuously avoiding any mention of troubles in Dublin or elsewhere: I redact a riot, as the Kaiser Chiefs never said.
But while their shows seamlessly segue into each other, the two presenters have also recently found themselves in competition, with Moore toppling Dempsey from his long-held position as the station’s most popular performer. This must be sweet for Moore, though less for bragging rights – with an audience of 227,000 in the latest JNLR listenership survey, he registered only 2,000 more listeners than Dempsey – than for his own validation. It’s just three months since he began solo stewardship of the midmorning shift, after his wingman Dermot Whelan called time on their 20-year on-air partnership as Dermot & Dave. Far from being rudderless, Moore appears to be thriving on his own.
One can understand why. He exudes natural affability and contagious enthusiasm. “My favourite bit of the show, genuinely, is talking to you guys,” the host says, with creditable conviction. Likewise, his dogged commitment to harvesting the creakiest of jokes from listeners adds a disarming charm. (Sample gag: “I had eczema, diarrhoea and haemorrhoids last weekend – best Scrabble game of my life.”)
In short, Moore has already put his distinctive stamp on the show. He’s cleary enjoying being sole master of ceremonies, with a more self-consciously jocular air prevailing than during his double-act days, which were raucous enough. That said, it’s notable that he sounds zippiest when riffing with guests such as the offbeat English comedian Lucy Beaumont. With his genial persona untrammelled by interventions from Whelan, Moore has broadened his mainstream appeal, but the lack of a sidekick to bounce off means there’s less opportunity to show his esoteric side. Chatting to the comedy trio Foil, Arms and Hog, the host reveals he studied Czech for two years, but he says little else on this intriguing nugget.
Not that Moore will be bothered: for anyone seeking safe harbour from the news elsewhere, he provides a reassuring berth. And, while his reinvention as an amiable solo presenter came with the risk of becoming just another jock, it seems to be working in his favour. Where previously there was a sharp break in style when Dempsey’s breakfast shift made way for the irreverence of Dermot & Dave, now there’s an altogether smoother transition, allowing Moore to tap into his colleague’s loyal base.
Though Mario Rosenstock’s comic impressions have all the bite of a slobbery raspberry – he pokes fun at RTÉ’s woes and Katie Taylor’s boxing victory, hardly burning issues – his daffy caricatures chime with the welcoming ambience that Dempsey creates
Dempsey needn’t be too concerned about being overtaken by Moore. He remains the foundation on which Today FM’s schedule rests, his dependably cheerful mood setting the tone for everything that follows. (Or at least until the real world intrudes on Matt Cooper’s drivetime show, The Last Word.) The veteran host exudes old-school positivity at every turn – few presenters say the word “fantastic” with such gusto – and possesses a chuckle that rivals even Dave Fanning’s conspicuous cackle: there must have been something in the water at 2FM in the 1980s. Only occasionally does Dempsey betray his vintage, as when he complains that contemporary hits don’t fade out like singles in the 1970s.
But somehow his patter comes across as utterly unforced, no matter that it has been burnished by years behind the mic. Whether encouraging contestants, chirpily swapping showbiz gossip or sharing gossamer-light ephemera, he sounds in his element, effervescently diverting yet strangely comforting. In this context, the Gift Grub segment, one of the show’s central planks, fits in nicely. Though Mario Rosenstock’s comic impressions have all the bite of a slobbery raspberry – he pokes fun at RTÉ’s woes and Katie Taylor’s boxing victory, hardly burning issues – his daffy caricatures chime with the welcoming ambience that Dempsey creates.
But while Dempsey and Moore are generous, inclusive hosts, they are also undeniably blokey. Indeed, following the recent departure of Pamela Joyce, Today FM’s daytime roster during the week now consists solely of male presenters, with Dara Quilty currently occupying the midday slot. All of which makes Weekend Breakfast with Alison Curtis a tonic. Formerly host of the alternative rock show The Last Splash, Curtis has made the transition from indie DJ to primetime presenter with apparent effortlessness. Her warmly engaging manner creates a convivial alternative to the sundry magazine offerings found elsewhere on weekend mornings, neither blandly fuddy-duddy nor ostentatiously chasing youthful listeners. The Canadian-born DJ has been a fixture on Irish radio for so long that her Canuck accent barely registers beyond adding an oddly wholesome note, as she drops North American phrases such as “super fancy” into her conversation.
If Moore and Dempsey form a benign patriarchy, Alison Curtis speaks to the mothers in her audience. But, as her conspicuously impressive ratings attest, she draws a broad spectrum of listeners
As with her weekday peers, Curtis operates within a well-worn format of random tunes, chat and quirky items. (A discussion about The Late Late Toy Show is the closest thing to topical material.) She relies on her personality – confiding, relaxed and just slightly nerdy – to carry off the frothy material: one regular slot features children reading from favourite stories. This borders on cutesy, but it’s a tribute to Curtis (who was once Dempsey’s producer) that she sets her young charges at ease.
It also underscores the host’s particular focus. If Moore and Dempsey form a benign patriarchy, Curtis speaks to the mothers in her audience. But, as her conspicuously impressive ratings attest, she draws a broad spectrum of listeners. Who doesn’t want to feel good these days?