Sunday 16 December 2018

All change for the new year on Irish radio

COMING HOME: Ray D'Arcy is going back to his RTE roots
COMING HOME: Ray D'Arcy is going back to his RTE roots

Eilis O'Hanlon

Last year, the biggest story in Irish radio was Pat Kenny's defection to Newstalk. This year gone by, it was the departure of Ray D'Arcy from Today FM to take over Derek Mooney's afternoon slot on RTE Radio One.

Kenny's move across the dial was a much more significant event, not least for the presenter himself, who's a far better broadcaster these days. Leaner. More fighting fit. D'Arcy's move, in contrast, feels like a step backwards. His morning show shared some of the faults of Today FM's populist schedule. Triviality and giddiness were never entirely banished, and there was an automatic presumption that modern, funky, liberal Dublin is invariably right about everything, and stuffy, conservative, rural Ireland should get with the project.

But Ray also showed himself more than capable of handling some of the year's big stories in a measured, insightful way, and it's hard to see why he'd want to take over such a whimsical, middle-of- the-road show as Mooney.

Sean Moncrieff, with whom D'Arcy will be going head to head on the airwaves next year, is another puzzle. The range of subjects covered on his eponymous Newstalk show is daringly eclectic. No other broadcaster devotes so much attention, for instance, to science. But he never seems to bring to those interviews the same sceptical tone that he applies to easier targets. Instead, as during a recent interview on Moncrieff with a US academic about what might happen when oil and gas run out, he all too readily accepts whatever the boffins tell him, even when it's nonsense. Like the idea that, in a post-oil age, travel will become a rarity and we'll all rediscover the joys of local craftmanship.

You reckon, Sean? You don't think mankind has what it takes to work out solutions?

Looking back, the stand-out broadcast of the year was probably The Quiet Land, Malachy McKenna's play for Drama On One, which took first prize in the PJ O'Connor Awards, about two elderly farmers in the West of Ireland, "terrified every single night in our own home" by crime.

The worst? Well, Liveline's discussion in the summer about Mrs Brown's Boys was a definite low point. Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed the question which Joe Duffy posed about British viewers of the show: "Do they know it's a man?" Then I remember that it really happened. Not even Callan's Kicks at its most surreal, and it's been particularly inspired this year, could have come up with such a moment.

As for Brendan O'Carroll's own guest spot as host of Marian Finucane... well, let's not go there. Some tragedies are best left in the past.

That was nowhere near as annoying, though, as RTE's ongoing obsession with the rise of what it continues to call "far-right parties" across Europe, which meant they entirely missed the dangerous rise of the far left at home. They didn't even tackle the Mairia Cahill story until Newstalk, in particular Lunchtime's Jonathan Healy, shamed them into action. No point calling it the news if it's not up to date.

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