Sunday 21 January 2018

Radio: A rare failure to relay fantasia of US election

Matt Cooper
Matt Cooper
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

My first thought on hearing the radio news this Wednesday: well, that was a surprise.

Am I understating the case? Or maybe overstating it - Donald Trump is the new US President and I for one didn't see that coming, but on the flipside, a lot of people obviously did and voted accordingly.

It's hard sometimes, inside the bubble of liberal leanings, working in the media and living 3,000 miles from America, to remember there's a huge panoply of different viewpoints out there. I wouldn't vote for Trump if you paid me, but millions of people would, and did.

I wish they hadn't, to be honest, but I'm not going to castigate them, be simplistic and reductive, or hurl insults. (Pretty sure I'll be hurling a few at him over the next few years, but that's another matter.)

I don't know enough about it to take a hard line. I don't know why these folks voted for Trump, who they are, how they think, what they want. In fact, that might partly explain why this came to pass: people like me refusing to listen to the "man on the street", talking down, insulting, ignoring, lecturing…ordering them how to think.

Trump is a spoofer and flim-flam merchant of Olympian standard, but he at least pretends to care about the average Joe. Many of society's ruling classes - media, academia, tech/business gurus, politicians, even artists - display their contempt nakedly and aggressively.

Anyway, there it is: the people have spoken. And they did a lot of it on radio this week.

Fittingly for such an outlandish campaign, Irish stations went large on this one. Newstalk and Radio 1 broadcast from Washington - DC, not the mighty State which gave us grunge, Twin Peaks and Twilight - while Today FM's Matt Cooper was in NYC.

The week kicked off with an enjoyable High Noon (Newstalk, Mon-Fri), with George in his element hopping balls off Michael Graham and Victoria Jones. He's conservative, she's not…I normally hate these contrived antagonistic set-ups, but this worked well.

Also good was The Last Word's interview (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) with right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter. She comes across as a borderline sociopath, to be honest, but Cooper was well able for her. Besides, that's the point of radio in some ways: let all voices be heard.

From Tuesday afternoon coverage went into overdrive, though there's only so much prognostication and divination you can listen to. The real action came the following morning.

Morning Ireland (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7am) and Breakfast (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 7am) both did a bang-up job covering this seismic result, with thorough reporting, analysis and updates. The usual liberal bias - I hate saying this because I am liberal, but media is meant to be objective, no? - seeped through a little, but only a little.

So will Trump be good for America and the world? Probably not, but I haven't a clue really. What I do know is that the last few days proved that radio is unparalleled as a medium for capturing and recording historical moments.

Having said that, one thing all the coverage failed to capture is just how bizarre this is. Donald Trump is now the most powerful person on earth.

Donald Trump. Reality TV star. Appeared in Home Alone 2. The Simpsons joked about him becoming President. It's as if a cartoon character has stepped through the screen and into real life. We're through the looking glass.

That's the most weird, surreal aspect. If reality and fantasia can blur into each like that, you feel, anything is possible. Buckle up, this could be a bumpy ride.

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