Monday 12 November 2018

Radio: Mooching along through a week of madness on radio

Pat Kenny
Pat Kenny
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

It was a crazy kind of week on the airwaves, with major stories exploding to life or gathering speed, not to mention a raft of worthwhile non-news pieces scattered throughout the schedule. The bewildered listener was barely able to hang on at times.

In the midst of all the madness, possibly the most surprising aspect was how well Anthony Scaramucci came across on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 9am). He gained almost-instant infamy when being appointed as Donald Trump's spindoctor-in-chief, then being fired after roughly 10 seconds in the job.

The Mooch has since come to symbolise, for many, all that is wrong with the Trump administration. But in a lengthy conversation, he seemed a relatively okay sort to me.

For sure, at times he was defending things that are pretty questionable, if not outright indefensible. On a personal level, though, Scaramucci seemed reasonable, intelligent and more level-headed than you'd expect.

Most importantly, he came across as a normal human being: flawed, yes, but not an ideological zealot, of any stripe. For which, let us give great praise.

The latest eruption of trouble in Israel was covered by Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am). The 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel was unfortunately marred by violent clashes at the border with Gaza, seeing dozens killed and hundreds injured.

As always, the question persists with regard to media coverage of Israel: why does this one country, and this latest clash, get singled out for so much attention - when far worse things are done, by far worse regimes, around the world every day? (And I realise I'm contributing to that by addressing it here.)

That said, this is clearly a serious incident. The show featured expert contributions from Ian Black of London School of Economics and Leslie Vinjamuri of the Chatham House think-tank, and handled it with the evenness and seriousness you expect from O'Rourke.

With the referendum now just a week away, Liveline (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 1.45pm) continued its contribution to the national conversation on abortion by doing what it does best: listening.

On voting day, as they say, the people have their say; but on Joe Duffy's show, all-year round, they get their say, too. All sides of the argument are being given the stage, from hard cases and personal tragedies to well-meaning objectors and the undecided middle.

It's easy to slag off Liveline as some type of national countrywide group therapy session, the weaponisation of gripes and moans. But it does genuinely provide a public service, and did so again this week: it listens to the vox populi.

Not self-styled experts, or those bizarro activists on both sides, but the inhabitants of this land. Which is very appropriate, now more than ever, because that, in the end, is the whole point of democracy.

On that theme, Future Proof (Newstalk, Sat 12 noon) ran a fascinating experiment on "social control" - also picked up by On the Record (Sun 11am) - inspired by recent developments in China. It was freaky, unsettling and at times downright scary; the machines are in control now.

Finally, on a much lighter note, this incorrigible old romantic has been mightily enjoying the adaptation of Wuthering Heights on 15 Minute Drama (BBC Radio 4, Mon-Fri 7.45pm). It continues next week, and Rachel Joyce's adaptation captures the essence of the novel: in all its overwrought, operatic, sepulchral (and faintly ridiculous) glory.

Great stuff, both as a reminder of Emily Brontë's Gothic classic, and as a listening pleasure in its own right.

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