Entertainment Radio

Thursday 23 January 2020

Radio: Charting the big changes at Newstalk

Shane Coleman, Alan Quinlan, Colette Fitzpatrick, Sarah McInerney and Paul Williams at the Newstalk autumn launch in Sophie’s rooftop terrace.
Shane Coleman, Alan Quinlan, Colette Fitzpatrick, Sarah McInerney and Paul Williams at the Newstalk autumn launch in Sophie’s rooftop terrace.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Well, Newstalk's big autumn reshuffle happened over a month ago, the new people and shows are bedded in to some extent, so it's time, I feel, for a status report. A bit like what my colleagues in the political department do with those "grades for Ministers" articles midway between general elections, or the sports guys' "mid-season rankings" during the seemingly interminable nuclear winter that is the Premier League season.

First up: the major change was, I suppose, to Breakfast (Mon-Fri, 6.30am). That now kicks off with half-an-hour of business news with Vincent Wall.

Personally, I can take or leave business stuff, especially at that "oh Jesus what time is it - I didn't even know there was a 6.30am - I thought the day didn't start until about eight" early hour.

But it makes sense to have this going out when business types are getting ready to take on the day and become masters of the universe and all of that. And Wall is a good, solid operator.

The main part of Breakfast sees three rotating hosts, plus Alan Quinlan on sport. Colette Fitzpatrick and Shane Coleman are quintessential pros, and I don't mean that in a disparaging way, or to damn with faint praise. What I mean is that they're smart, capable and calm under pressure; basically, you feel in safe hands with these two.

As for their co-host, the crime reporter Paul Williams: the jury (no pun intended) is out. I still maintain it was a good choice for Newstalk to make: it was risky and imaginative and showed daring - all things that should be commended, and you want the Williams move to be rewarded and work out. It feels to me that he hasn't fully settled in yet, though; he hasn't quite hit that fluid balance between being A) combative in interviews with public figures and B) jokey/pally with colleagues.

But he, and it, are worth giving some time. Who would have thought in the 1990s, for instance, that George Hook would become one of Ireland's leading media figures?

He, of course, has moved to High Noon (Mon-Fri 12 noon). But first, a quick word about the extended Pat Kenny Show (Mon-Fri, 9am). It's good, sometimes better than good, and you know what you're getting with Pat at this stage.

The extra hour doesn't appear to have knocked him off his stride, either, he's as enthusiastic as a man half his age. The show isn't groundbreaking, but that's okay.

High Noon, meanwhile, is more opinion-and rant-driven than its predecessor, Jonathan Healy's Lunchtime. Some moments have been excellent; some of Hooky's spiels and/or addresses to the nation have been properly provocative in all senses of that word. How long this shtick will play for is the question.

The other main show is Drive (Mon-Fri 4pm). That earlier-than-actual-drivetime start-time still feels a bit weird, but hosts Chris Donoghue and Sarah McInerney have created a decent chemistry and a so-far entertaining show.

Donoghue, apart from his other qualities, is one of the most likeable people in current-affairs broadcasting. And McInerney has been surprisingly good from the start, really hitting the ground running (that daft analogy between terrorists and striking teachers aside).

One thing I like about Drive is how they talk to presenters of other shows - this kind of linkage across the station is a clever idea. One thing I dislike is that we now get even more Off the Ball: a perfectly fine show of itself, but far too long at three hours every night and (it feels like) 24-hour round-the-clock at weekends.

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