Entertainment

Friday 24 February 2017

Radio review: The best presenters are ready to take risks

Eilis O'Hanlon

4fm's Niall Boylan
4fm's Niall Boylan

An anti-abortion campaigner spoke to The Neil Prendeville Show on Cork's RedFM on Monday about having an abusive message posted through his letterbox in the night.

An awful incident obviously, but what was interesting was Prendeville's response. Of course the presenter didn't approve of any intimidation, but, from personal experience, he did wonder what exactly could be done about it: "If you're going to put yourself out there... please be aware that you are leaving yourself open to all sorts of people - the rational and the irrational, the nutters and the weirdos."

It's hard to imagine any of RTE's star turns openly expressing potentially unpopular opinions on any subject whatsoever, but presenters on smaller radio stations, such as the versatile Prendeville, don't have the same luxury of hiding behind lists of carefully prepared questions. With far thinner resources, they have to take risks, live by their wits.

No one illustrates that better than Classic Hits 4FM's resident bad boy. Between The Niall Boylan Show and Niall Boylan@Night, he puts in more hours on air than surely any other Irish broadcaster, and he rarely plays it safe. Niall's approach was best summed up by a comment on Tuesday evening directed at those who feel certain subjects should be off limits for fear of causing hurt: "If you want a safe space, go to your room."

That night he was discussing the issue of transgender children. RTE wouldn't dare touch such a sensitive subject, not without rigorously vetting callers first.

He then used that as a springboard to discussing why more men wish to be women than the other way round, asking why anyone would want to be a man when men, as he put it, have it so much harder in the modern world, before tying all that into the dismissal of rape charges against footballer Ched Evans, which he'd also covered at length on Monday's programme, when, once again, no other national radio station had dared go there.

He can be loud-mouthed, and his brash approach draws some nasty specimens out of the woodwork, such as the man on Monday who asserted that "women are all devious, manipulative and evil".

But independent radio can't afford to sit back in smug refinement and simply wait for listeners to tune in out of habit. Shows have to constantly generate their own energy. Frankly, most of the bigger name presenters on the national airwaves would struggle to keep up with the pace.

Meanwhile on RTE, the presenter of The Ray D'Arcy Show was earning his rumoured half a million euro salary by lobbing some soft questions at the Hairy Bikers, in town to promote their new cook book, prompting Ray to utter possibly the most stunning remark ever heard on Irish radio: "I've never had a chip butty."

What? Not once in his 52 years on Earth has he ever put some chips between slices of buttered bread? How is that possible? Is the man even Irish at all?

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