Sunday 18 March 2018

Radio review: Change is as good as a test for Newstalk

Alan Quinlan, Shane Coleman, Collette Fitzpatrick and Paul Williams at the Newstalk autumn launch in Sophie’s rooftop terrace.
Alan Quinlan, Shane Coleman, Collette Fitzpatrick and Paul Williams at the Newstalk autumn launch in Sophie’s rooftop terrace.

Eilis O'Hanlon

Catherine Baksi is a legal affairs journalist. On Monday's Today show on BBC Radio Four, she was invited to comment on the not guilty verdict in the trial of Helen Titchener, a fictional character in The Archers charged with the attempted murder of her abusive husband.

Later the same morning, Woman's Hour followed that up by asking listeners: "Are you satisfied with the fate of Helen?" They even returned to the subject on Thursday, as Helen headed into the family law court to fight for custody of her children.

Obviously, drama can explore difficult issues, but a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that this was a real case, not a plot line in a long-running soap. It all got rather silly in the end.

The most important radio event of the week was the launch of the new weekday schedule on Newstalk. That was heralded at 7am on Monday with the theme from Rocky to introduce Newstalk Breakfast.

New anchor Shane Coleman was immediately at home, gently teasing that day's co-presenter, crime journalist Paul Williams, on his first day in the new job. The sparky "bromantic" banter between former co-hosts Ivan Yates and Chris O'Donoghue will certainly be missed; but perhaps it would be foolish even to try and replicate it.

Colette Fitzpatrick, who joined Shane the next day on the Breakfast team, was confident and assured. The new slot ought to suit her strengths, but Coleman is so good at what he does that he could easily overshadow her if she doesn't seize the chance to show what she's made of.

The earlier start time for The Pat Kenny Show, which now begins at nine and runs for three hours, happily eliminates that awkward post-commute lull which Breakfast sometimes struggled to fill, and the expanded running time also establishes Pat firmly as Newstalk's top dog. George Hook, by contrast, seems like a much smaller character in his new lunchtime show, though he compensated for it by being, if such a thing can be imagined, even more bullish and boisterous than before.

On first impressions, Hook's High Noon is a strange hybrid beast, not quite news, not quite entertainment. Are listeners really ready for that over-heated style so early in the day? Jonathan Healy's straightforward approach worked perfectly in this time slot previously. One could listen to Lunchtime, and come away with a reliable sense of each day's most important themes. The same can't be said so far about High Noon.

Getting rid of The Right Hook has also taken some of the fun and danger out of early evenings. Chris O'Donoghue and Sarah McInerney make a capable, likeable team on Newstalk Drive, but it's quite a dry formula. Interviews about NAMA with independent TD Mick Wallace and Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald on Wednesday were similar to any that might be heard on RTE Radio One's Drivetime each night of the week.

How ironic that Today FM's Last Word, helmed by the solid but unexciting Matt Cooper, is now the only personality-driven show left in that most important of time slots. It's the end of an era.

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