Off the Ball, Newstalk, weekdays, 7pm; weekends, 1pm Arena RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays, 7pm
Newstalk celebrated its 20th birthday last week, which naturally led to what one presenter called “a lot of birthday content”. I will overlook this, given the circumstances, but I am making it known that from now on, all mentions of the word “content” on any radio programme will be condemned. That one word has done incalculable damage to our culture, and it must be exterminated.
Newstalk has survived it though – and having contributed in some small way to various programmes over the years, I can perhaps make a couple of personal observations on how they are still with us. Mainly, I would be reviewing the papers on a Sunday afternoon on Off the Ball, and in the days when people used to leave the house to do things this would involve me spending some time at Newstalk headquarters in Marconi House in Dublin.
And as I sat with some other distinguished contributor in the ante-room in which we would assemble the material from the Sunday papers, it would always strike me, at some stage, that there was almost nobody else in the building.
Other than the actual presenters and sound engineers and so forth, you would find more people hanging out in your Centra store in a sleepy country town. Granted, a Sunday would not be all that busy in the teeming metropolis that is RTÉ either, but, still, Newstalk is a national station and sometimes it can apparently function on the resources you’d find at the higher end of the pirate radio sector.
I’m not saying this is how it should be done, and I know there would be others literally “out in the field”. I am saying a lot can be done with the talent and energy of presenters such as Joe Molloy or Nathan Murphy.
Off the Ball happens to be a particular triumph – it has sometimes been speculated that the whole Newstalk operation will eventually become one big Off the Ball, and cut out all the trivia.
Here too, I have perhaps gained an insight into the workings of the operation, due to the fact it’s on this show I have spoken most frequently on the dark side of online gambling – at the end of which there has often been an ad for an online gambling corporation.
Like most media organisations, Newstalk finds it impossible to turn down the bookies’ money, yet it has never even been vaguely hinted to me by anyone on Off the Ball that I should maybe cool it a bit on the old gambling issue.
This is about as good as it gets in today’s media – and it must be said that RTÉ takes the bookies’ money too, despite also taking the licence fee which is supposed to liberate them from such unpleasantness.
That said, we really could do without The Cash Machine currently on Newstalk, reinforcing the tendency of much of our culture to resemble some kind of a numbers racket.
I suppose what I am ultimately saying is that Newstalk has survived for 20 years mainly because of me – OK, maybe not “mainly”, and maybe not exactly “me” – but people like me, drawn from the multitudes of the rest of the media who are willing to share our visions of truth and beauty with the broadcasters.
And again I’m not just talking about Newstalk here – I cite the example of one Pat Carty, mainly of Hot Press magazine, a commentator on all matters of culture but on rock ‘n’ roll in particular. Pat is a regular contributor to RTÉ Radio 1’s arts show Arena – his most recent outing was an entertaining talk he gave about rock biopics in the light of a proposed movie about U2. He riffed across the spectrum from Brendan Shine to Freddie Mercury, just because he could. He can also be heard sometimes on Dave Fanning’s show on RTÉ 2FM.
Moreover he does an occasional double-act with Tom Dunne on Newstalk, his voice of the midlands making a kind of music with Tom’s big city sounds. He has his own show, The Record Machine, on Saturdays at 5pm on Dublin City FM.
Without this element that we might generically call the Pat Carty Phenomenon, it would be hard to imagine most radio stations being on the air for 20 minutes, let alone 20 years. Many cultural or current affairs or sports shows just would not have much in them – I was going to say much “content” but, you know…