Night Time Talk radio review: Free expression is the Boylan point

For a couple of hours a night, the Ireland’s Classic Hits presenter gives people their right to speak – regardless of whether Official Ireland disagrees with it

Ireland's Classic Hits DJ Niall Boylan. Photo by Michael Donnelly

Darragh McManus

Niall Boylan is almost a personification of the concept, more important now than ever, of “épater les bourgeois” — which makes his show one of the most important on Irish radio.

That French phrase is generally translated as “shock, or scandalise, the middle classes”, but it’s more than that. This isn’t really aimed at your local accountant or GAA chairman, the go-along-to-get-along majority.

“Épater les bourgeois” is aimed at the elites, rule-makers and opinion-formers. The smug, complacent, self-congratulatory and self-righteous people who run everything. The Brahmin class. Official Ireland.

That goes its media too, especially broadcasting — print journalism, I don’t think, has quite the same toxic levels of hive-mind conformity. Which is why a show like Night Time Talk with Niall Boylan (Ireland’s Classic Hits, Mon-Thu 9pm) is so crucial for a healthy politics and society. The pugnacious Dubliner does something unusual for Irish radio: he lets anyone have their say, within reason, be they invited guests or callers. And he lets them speak on any topic, within reason.

That could be, as heard recently, positive, negative, neutral, controversial or timely. Boylan has covered freedom of speech more than most, with our “hate-speech” laws described by one contributor as “terrifying”.

He has his biases and likes the sound of his own voice — as do all broadcasters, whether they admit it or not — and isn’t shy about disagreeing or interrupting. But in general, he gives a fair hearing to each individual. He doesn’t talk down, as so many current affairs presenters do; or worse, patronise someone by pretending to listen, then “correcting” them on where they went wrong in a passive-aggressive way.

You don’t have to agree with Boylan — many people don’t — but you suspect this doesn’t bother him. Indeed, he probably welcomes it. That, after all, is more or less the point of the show: people are free to disagree, to possess their own thoughts and feelings, and express them.

This week had a lengthy discussion about immigration. I didn’t like what everyone had to say. The host didn’t either. But he let them say it — not unchallenged, but not censored either.

That’s democracy. Who am I, you, Niall Boylan or anyone else, to tell another person they can’t express their genuine view?

I don’t listen to Boylan that often. I hadn’t realised that, in March, he had moved from being radio’s answer to James “hardest-working man in showbusiness” Brown — six hours a day, in two tranches, as The Niall Boylan Show — to a saner couple of hours on Nighttime Talk With Niall Boylan.

And I wouldn’t call it my favourite show, or him my favourite broadcaster. But I still think it plays a hugely important role in Irish media; it would be good for everyone if there were more programmes like this.

The show’s tag-line runs, “Real people, real opinions, real talk-radio.” To be honest, all radio is ersatz to some degree — that’s the nature of the medium — but this is as close as it gets. And anything that manages to “épater les bourgeois” is OK by me.