Wednesday 23 October 2019

CountryWide, the family jewel hidden away in the attic


Fr Brian D'Arcy
Fr Brian D'Arcy
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

It's a real shame CountryWide (Radio 1, Sat 8.10am) goes out at such an unreasonable hour, tucked away in the schedules like Bertha in Rochester's attic: the rest of the radio family knows it's there, but more-or-less pretends it doesn't exist.

I know farmers are famous for being early risers, but just after 8am on Saturday is ridiculous, for two reasons. First, CountryWide is one of the top 20 rating shows, with over 200,000 listeners - imagine what they could do with a kinder slot in the schedules?

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And secondly, it's superb. Ably hosted by the smart, amiable Damien O'Reilly (Marty Morrissey and John Cooke have been filling in recently), CountryWide is filled with great reports and stories. It's not all about agriculture, either (and you could argue that food production is so fundamental to our lives that it deserves its own show anyway).

This week, for instance, looked at the farming of oil seed rape, the impact of Storm Hannah, the Ploughing Championships, racing at Punchestown, how intercounty GAA stars John Heslin and Briege Corkey balance farming with the demands of championship, and a 'Men Only' book-club in Clare.

Last week we had potato farming in Ethiopia, the Killimer to Tarbert ferry, traditional Aran knitting and Fr Brian Darcy - always good value - on Lyra McKee and 21 years of the Good Friday Agreement.

Important things, informative, amusing, thought-provoking, even sometimes - I never got horse racing, really - uninteresting. And all crammed into 50 minutes of radio. When you think about the amount of waffle, filler and all-purpose yak-yak-yak that bloats so many other talk-radio shows, it makes CountryWide's length (and, again, scheduling!) even more baffling.

Still, no harm with a bit of triviality either. Pat Kenny (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 9am) diverged from the usual diet of current affairs to interview Rick Astley, ahead of a Dublin gig, and it was surprisingly engaging.

Once a retro-nostalgic running-joke, Astley is now a retro-nostalgic national treasure - definitely an improvement - and came over as a thoroughly amiable chap, with that solid Northern English accent and a nice lack of pretentiousness.

"I've had an easy life," he said at one stage. A very stress-free life." Retro-nostalgia doesn't sound so bad.

Breakfast Republic (2FM, Mon-Fri 6am) paid the best possible tribute to the late Gerry Ryan, who died 10 years ago this month: with humour and irreverence. Jennifer Zamparelli, Keith Walsh and Gerry's daughter Lottie somehow managed to be flippant, silly and mouthy, while simultaneously respectful, sincere and affectionate. The man himself, you feel, would have approved.

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