Adventures in RealAudio

 

As much as it pains me to support the tyranny of deep-voiced women on the radio, I have to say: I love Teri Garvey's voice. On its own it would nearly justify her ascendance within RTE; she's also damn smart to boot. Her months as presenter of The Health Report (RTE Radio 1, Tuesday), which has seen the programme take a worthwhile look at complementary medicine, have been a notable success.

This week she looked at hypnosis, and how visualisation can work as an aid to healing. The doctor she had on to talk about it didn't entirely convince me that you can dramatically improve arthritis by imagining your joints being oiled, but he was fascinating about how actively the brain responds to imagined stimuli, and it was all a wonderful metaphor for the power of radio.

Just as an experiment, rather than ring RTE to get the doctor's name, I tried using the station's vaunted website. The programme's own site was neither particularly detailed nor notably up to date (the last specific programme notes appeared to date from December 1998), so no joy there. But then, not to worry, there was always the option of following a link to the RealAudio file of the show.

Link, did you say? The Health Report site invites users to check out the audio site without providing the extremely simple expedient of a link to it. So it's back through the RTE site in search of a way into the "Audio Archive", where the most recent editions of a wide range of programmes are available for listening (www.rte.ie/av.html, for your information). On the audio archive page, Health Report is billed as "presented by Yetti Redmond", but not to worry, it also said "recorded on March 21", which fitted the bill.

Sadly, that was all that fitted the bill. Clicking on the audio icon launched me straight into what sounded like the middle of an interview. Sounded like, I say, because mostly what it sounded like was inaudibly garbled. So not a hope there either. (I have successfully negotiated this archive before in search of other programmes and heard crystal-clear audio, so I have to assume this glitch is neither the standard form for RTE on the Internet, nor a function of my incompetence.)

None of this should be read as criticism of the Health Report team, whose job it is to produce a radio programme, not maintain a website. But if the latter task is beyond the resources of RTE to provide, the organisation ought to stop boasting about it.

In spite of it all, Radio 1 does provide some mighty good visualisation exercises. One of the best of the irregular providers, praised here before, is at present the subject of a three-play mini-season on Play of the Week (RTE Radio 1, Tuesday). He's Stephen Buck, an extremely talented young radio dramatist. That might sound a bit oxymoronic, or anachronistic anyway - like "promising young ship's carpenter" - even to someone like me who's paid (a little) to express hopes for the rich future of this medium. The timeshift effect is abetted by the name, Stephen Buck - like a hero out of Jack London, or a sub-Osborne Angry Young Man. Last week's play, Festival of Light, was a great exercise in suburban paranoia straight out of The Twilight Zone, again locating Buck somewhere deep in the aesthetic last century. (Great century - check it out with him and you'll notice that his reference points are also up to the minute.)

The name is, of course, also utterly Joycean. So it's especially appropriate that the protagonist of this week's Buck play, Jeremy Cooper's Bad Review, was a crotchety, middle-aged literary man-about-London and author of a new book, James Joyce: The Hungry Years.

The play opens with Cooper (Alan Barry) muttering resentful profanities over breakfast. (Barry, quite splendid, was especially good at finding a dozen different ways to say "bastard".) Among the sources of his discontent is the novel he has to review for the Times, a series of heroin-saturated episodes from Scotland's urban wasteland, structured along the lines of Grimm fairytales - Grim Tales of Cold Turkey. Cooper is particular galled at the youth of the novelist. "He's 28 years old - do you realise that means he was born in 1972? How can anyone born in 1972 possibly write anything?"

"You're constantly reminding people," says his long-suffering missus, "that James Joyce wrote The Dead when he was 26."

"Yes, but he wasn't born in 1972."

From there the play proceeds wittily through an appalling day in a largely overcomfortable life, with an amusing diversion through the studio of a pompous radio arts programme - where the musing host badly conceals his ignorance of the topic at hand before seguing to the latest CD of Peruvian "world music".

THE question of who listens to "world music" came to mind again this week - as, by all accounts, audiences that were, at a conservative estimate, 95 per cent white descended on venues in Dublin and Belfast to see Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour.

More pertinently for this column, world music also seems to play a significant part in Radio One World, the "new multi-cultural radio service" now being offered by RTE on medium wave (612 and 1278 khz). E telling me only recently that no one wants to listen to music on medium wave?) It's premature to knock this welcome service too hard, especially as I've only listened straight through to its two hours on one occasion. But at the moment Radio One World, presented by Paulina Chiwangu and Marcus Connaughton, is a very weird mix, jumping from African rhythms to Romanian news to - figure this out - Colm Keane's popumentary about Bobby V.

Throw in whatever interesting feature has been picked up from the BBC World Service, plus interviews on refugee policy that wouldn't be out of place on Morning Ireland, then try hard to imagine who could possibly want to listen to this.

It can't possibly help that, for reasons of RTE expediency, Radio One World has been "dispersed" to the old studios of now-defunct RTE Radio Cork. A multi-cultural service clearly belongs in the multi-cultural capital, as demonstrated this week by north-east Dublin community station NEARfm: its antiracism special on Tuesday included live broadcasts from the Travellers' centre at Pavee Point, from the Vincentian refugee drop-in centre in Phibsboro and from the Islamic cultural centre. All credit to NEARfm, Ireland's old multi-cultural radio service.