Sunday 21 July 2019

Radio: In pod we trust, with Dunphy and some cool science

Eamon Dunphy
Eamon Dunphy
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Being an unreconstructed old dinosaur, I've rebuffed the advances of podcasts thus far. Yes, yes, I know this is basically the radio of the future, and everything is online now, and why do I have to be such an annoying crank by insisting on listening the old-fashioned way.

Well, technophiles, rejoice: I have finally got with the programme. Or at least, a handful of specific programmes. (Are you allowed to call podcasts "programmes"?)

The Stand with Eamon Dunphy, a twice-weekly podcast, has been recommended to me more than once. Tackling Dunphy favourites - news, current affairs and sport - the show mixes analysis/discussion with lengthy one-to-one interviews.

There's a broad range of topics: recent weeks covered everything from Rory McIlroy, Champions League, Brexit and the Disclosures Tribunal, to Trump, housing, gangland crime and INM's travails. And Dunphy has assembled a stellar cast in support: the likes of Cormac Lucey, Niall Stanage, Michael Clifford and, for soccer, the nonpareil Holy Trinity of Giles, Brady and Didi Hamann.

It reminds me quite a bit of his pioneering The Last Word, which launched way back in 1997 with Today FM (or Radio Ireland as was then) and did much to help establish the independent station. In particular, I like how Dunphy allows things space and time to breathe and fully unfold.

The lengthy interviews are more like conversations, really, as exemplified by a wonderful one-to-one with Christy Dignam. The Aslan frontman is full of honesty and fire and dignity anyway, so interviewing him is easy - but this genuinely felt like eavesdropping on a private natter.

And, as with his radio show, The Stand also shows imagination in taking a side-on approach. For instance, during the Catalonia crisis, he talked not to a reporter or local politician, but award-winning author Colm Tóibín, who lived in Barcelona for three years and has written about the region. So we got journalistic insight and authorial perspective.

Another nice little podcast is the once-weekly Cool Science and Curious Minds, produced by Sean Duke who has made some superb science documentaries for radio.

Duke, plus in-studio sidekick Mark Robinson of Bray's East Coast FM, looks at "how research is changing your world" with the help of assorted experts. In this week's debut, we heard about how a pill might overcome obesity, a yogurt which could prevent mental illness and how, in the near future, we might be able to control devices with thoughts.

That last was especially interesting, with Prof Tomás Ward, of DCU's Insight Centre for Data Analytics, detailing research into brain-computer interfaces. It's not all hard science: upcoming shows will also address "softer" sciences such as sociology and archaeology, and keep an eye on those controversies periodically thrown up by technological advance. Mark declared it all "very interesting indeed". I concur.

Staying with science - but rapidly running out of space - a quick shout-out to three excellent segments on "traditional" radio. Ryan Tubridy (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 9am) spoke to forensic anthropologist Sue Black about her book, All That Remains, which examines our attitude to death, and how science studies it.

Talking Books (Newstalk, Sun 8pm) continues as one of the most inimitable shows on Irish radio with an exploration of Sigmund Freud. Finally, Patricia Baker followed up last year's fine documentary A City Feast with the equally good Taste of Two Cities (Newstalk, Sun 7am), a "foraging walk" through Belfast and Dublin in search of wild foodstuffs. Great stuff all three.

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