Tuesday 22 August 2017

Radio: I avoided the news today, oh boy... and it was great

Derek Mooney
Derek Mooney
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

News is such a massive presence nowadays, especially in media, that it's almost impossible to escape. Whether politics, war, sport, entertainment, crime or whatever else, news is a colossal Ozymandias statue towering over the lone and level sands of everything else.

It's everywhere on radio… at least from Monday to Friday, when the airwaves are colonised by news, or music playlists and inane banter (which is, just about, worse).

But not all of us want 24-7 news; not all are "news junkies", a term which should by rights be derogatory, but instead seems to be worn with pride by obsessives who devour every last scrap of information about "what's going on in the world", instead of reading a book or re-watching Jason Statham movies, like a normal person.

And weekdays are barren ground if you fancy something else. At the weekend, the situation is much better.

Then, radio offers a far wider selection: of themes, tones, types of show. Last Sunday alone, for instance, I randomly tuned into three which taught me things I didn't know, intrigued and entertained, opened my mind in all kinds of ways and, in the case of Nova, did something you normally only find in a great novel: shone a light on some essential truth or core at the heart of the universe.

You won't get that listening to Jonathan Healy grilling some TD about the latest action plan for roads, will you?

Mooney Goes Wild (Radio 1, 10pm) invited on naturalist Paul Whelan from biodiversity website Biology.ie to discuss roadkill. They want people to help track what animals are dying at our hands (or wheels), and where, as part of the Road Kill Survey 2017.

If you give even the slightest damn about other animals, this is hugely important work. And the show was hugely informative, and eye-opening: the part about how hedgehogs are adapting to traffic patterns was even a little inspirational.

On the same station, Miriam Meets (10am), eh, met Niall Stokes and Stuart Clarke of Hot Press (plus one-time contributor Nadine O'Regan). The magazine is 40 years old, and while it's been showing its age for quite a while, it was seminal in its day.

It's easy for people my age to be snarky and dismissive of Stokes and his gang, who are so painfully right-on that you're never quite sure whether to laugh loudly or despair for western civilisation. But, but, but… the man, and magazine, did sterling work in breaking down the walls of Old Ireland, which had many fine qualities but was a weird, dismal place in some ways too. So props for that.

Finally, we come to Lyric FM which, it should be noted, offers a genuine alternative to news all week round. Anyway, Nova (8pm) bewitched and enchanted as usual with a mind-boggling selection of avant-garde modern composition and sound art.

I love this stuff. It's just so radically different from anything else. And sure, how could you not love a piece (De Rerum Natura by Eva Pöpplein and Janko Hanushevsky) summarised by host Bernard Clarke as: "Based on a didactic poem by Roman philosopher Lucretius, which presents an entire cosmology based on the concept of atomism… The composition is a sonic translation of Lucretius' ideas, fragments of the poem intertwined with a complex composition. The smallest sonic elements float through space, dark and chaotically merged to create concrete forms, transform into different consistencies, from water to wind to dust, in a constant process of becoming and dissolving."

It was wonderful, in every sense. But then, for fans of Nova, that won't come as news.

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