Radio: Want to hear what Ireland sounds like? Listen to Joe
I recently finished the latest book from Newstalk's Seán Moncrieff (Mon-Fri 1.30pm). A very fine book, The Irish Paradox, as you'd guess from the title, tries to explain the many contradictions which make up our national "personality".
At one stage, Moncrieff makes the point, apropos our somewhat dysfunctional polity, that there's a reason Irish people don't riot, burn down the streets or otherwise go crazy with rage: we sublimate all that anger by "talking to Joe".
He's right, to some extent. Liveline (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 1.45pm) truly is a sounding board for the nation's woes, to the extent that people now say, only half-jokingly, "You should get onto Joe Duffy about that." This, we feel, would be a surer way to resolving the problem than going through the official channels of Government.
Liveline is a mixture of confession box, speaker's corner, TD's constituency clinic and visiting hours at Bedlam. To take a random sample of recent topics, we had, over just a few days: a woman having trouble repatriating her brother's body; a 90-year-old summoned to court because she didn't remove her satellite dish quickly enough for Dublin City Council; chaos at the Garda National Immigration Bureau; bus passengers who had to wait while the driver got his hair cut; Junior Minister Dara Murphy's jaunt from Mitchelstown to Dublin Airport in a garda car; and Johnny Ronan's distasteful "Arbeit macht Frei" comments.
And while this "tell me about your problems" style of show is standard on radio, Liveline is different in two ways. First, the topics are generally serious, worth covering and of interest to the wider public. Second, Liveline has such real power now that it can, from time to time, modify policy or affect change.
And it's uniquely Irish. This might not be the best way to do things; it probably reflects a fundamental immaturity in us. But feck it, it's our way; and it makes for better radio, too.
It helps, too, that Duffy is such an experienced and capable broadcaster. Often, phone-in shows can degenerate into shouting matches, the airwaves equivalent of a post-pub drunken brawl (possibly, in the late-night shows, those taking part really are just in from the pub).
Duffy always keeps a fairly tight rein on proceedings, allows little messing, and keeps the show moving at a good clip. Importantly, he also gives you the impression that he genuinely cares about the people phoning in, that he wants their problems to be fixed and their lives made better.
I know David McSavage did that sketch where Joe was basically a voyeur, getting his thrills from other people's misery - and I laughed, along with everyone else - but that's not the reality. Duffy sounds authentically outraged when things go bad, and authentically relieved when they go right.
I get why people don't like Liveline, and in fact, I don't listen to it religiously myself. But for a snapshot of the Irish nation - whatever that might be - you'd be hard-pressed to do better than this show. It is, at various times, compelling, articulate, ridiculous, inspirational, silly, brilliant - and so are we.
Also making pretty fine radio at the moment is Neil Delamere and his Sunday Best (Today FM, Sun 11am). I like this show quite a lot, I must say.
It's not a new incarnation of Neil Delamere - he's subbed for other hosts, across a few stations, for the last number of years - but this is his first real "starring role" on radio. And he's really rather good.
It's funny, actually, because I could always take or leave Delamere as a comedian. As a presenter, though, he's clever, informed, energetic and, well, funny.
He has a charm and likeability, too, which isn't hugely common in stand-up comedians (they tend to come across as prickly, self-absorbed types, at least in public personae). He's not there trying to show off, yelling: "Notice me, notice me!". Delamere is there to serve the programme, not the other way around, which is, of course, how it should be.
The show itself has a broad mix of subjects and topics - the most recent edition, for instance, ranged from rock-stars writing books and historical titbits to sleep problems and sex robots (I'm not making that up).
And Delamere is good at moving between tones, from serious (well, serious-ish) to light, and back again. He's amusing when he needs to be, but - again, this seems unusual for a comedian - doesn't feel compelled to blurt out gag after gag, all the time.
I particularly like the good-natured and wry "That's a Bit Irish" section, which takes a weekly look at something quintessentially of this island. Recent weeks have seen Neil cover intercounty GAA jerseys, Lady Lavery, wakes, Claddagh rings, those daft e-voting machines… you get the picture.
I wonder if there'd be any chance of a bit of cross-station co-operation, wherein Sunday Best might cover Liveline? "That's a Bit Irish", in excelsis.