Sunday 19 January 2020

Radio: At least the Olympics will sound great

Broadcaster Tom Dunne
Broadcaster Tom Dunne
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The Olympics began this weekend. Will you be following it? I don't know that I will.

Maybe some national pride thing will have me tuning in for the Irish competitors, but other than that, the Games have lost most of their magic for many of us. You know the reasons (hint: it's doping); no need to go into the tedious, depressing details here.

Still, they were magical, once - at least that's how I remember my childhood - feats of athletic derring-do, beamed into our homes from exotic locations around the planet.

Because that's the thing about the Olympics, of course: it's as much a media event as a sporting one. Hardly any of us have actually been to a Games, or a World Cup, or Champions League final: we experience them, through TV and radio, second-hand.

But, as The Sound of Sport (Radio 1, Mon 6.30pm) reminded me, second-hand doesn't necessarily mean inferior. This engrossing documentary shone a well-earned light on the unsung heroes of sports broadcasting: the sound engineers.

We always think of commentators and panellists, even camera operators (and in Ireland, Après Match). But the sound is probably just as important on TV, and naturally far more important on radio.

These guys manipulate sound, trick around with it, shape it, almost play it like music. They sort of feel the flow of a sporting contest and work out where to quieten the background noise, where to go loud on the roar of a crowd. They know what works best with what sports and in what venues.

Originally made for BBC Radio 4, Peregrine Andrews' documentary was full of delightful little facts and observations. And sounds, obviously: the oceanic rush of applause, the hollow thwack of a ball being struck.

Also full of good observations was Cullivan's Travels - A Journey Through Irish Satire (Radio 1, Mon 1.30pm). Comic and musician Paddy Cullivan (he of Late Late house-band The Camembert Quartet) chaired Tara Flynn, John Moynes, John Colleary and Sean Hardie in discussing the topic.

"Does satire actually change anything?" Cullivan asked at the start. Yes and no, I think, is the answer.

I liked Moynes' description of the Chinese ideogram for "satire", which translates back into English as "laughter with knives". In fact I liked most of this. Comedians can be insufferably smug when they get together, with all that stupid "I'm funniest" competitiveness and (ironically) congratulating each other on sharing opinions - but this was a likeable, interesting and fun half hour.

The Tom Dunne Show (Newstalk, Sun 9-11/Mon-Thur 10-12) had a two-part retrospective on punk rock to mark 40 years since that movement exploded across popular culture. It was fine, I'm sure - Dunne knows his stuff musically, and some of the interviewees were very good - but I must confess to a blind spot when it comes to punk.

I just… don't get it. I understand why other people like it, just not why they like it that much. As someone wiser than me once said, "Punk was only alright… then grunge came along and did it all much better."

Finally, stand-in host of The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 10am) Jonathan Healy was doing the usual Technology slot on Tuesdays with resident expert Jessica Kelly, discussing some gadget or other.

What stopped me in my tracks was that this yoke cost €1,169 - and Jessica described it as a handy device "for when I'm out and about". What? People actually spend the bones of 1,200 quid on something so easily breakable, losable and stealable? I am in the wrong job!

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