Monday 21 May 2018

Radio: Surprisingly calm and measured in Ivan Yates country

Broadcaster Ivan Yates. Photo: Mark Condren
Broadcaster Ivan Yates. Photo: Mark Condren
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

There's something of a perception abroad, I feel, that Ivan Yates is a bit of a contrarian on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 4pm), a little abrasive, that he enjoys stoking up disagreement and rising a row between guests for the sake of it.

I don't necessarily concur. Yates, you get the feeling, enjoys a good old barney when involved himself. But when he has on two or more people discussing some issue, I find Yates is generally quite a calm, measured moderator, steering the conversation away from mindless babble and towards some kind of enlightenment for the listener.

This week, for instance, he addressed abortion with a discussion between Ivana Bacik (pro-repeal) and Larissa Nolan (pro-life). To start, Yates did the State some service by tackling the notion that only religious people will be voting No, one of the most stupid and pernicious clichés in modern public affairs.

"Some people," he began, "are motivated in terms of morals and ethics from a religious perspective" - but, importantly, not everyone. To repeat this old chestnut seems, to me, not far removed from stereotypes about the Irish as drunks, terrorists and sentimental poets.

So here were two non-religious women debating abortion - disagreeing completely - but it was pleasingly sensible, grown-up and respectful. You know, the way it should be in a civilised society. Indeed only towards the end did tempers rise, with Ivan dryly declaring: "When you start talking over each other, it's easier for me to talk over both of you", and thus ending the debate.

Yates, of course, also did the State some service, literally, as a Minister. That, and his other past life in business - with the triumphs and disasters those can deliver - gives him a sort of grounding, an understanding of real life, which a lot of media "lifers" lack.

I think he's settled into The Hard Shoulder really well, as proven by last week's JNLR rise - putting Yates just 3,000 listeners behind The Pat Kenny Show (Mon-Fri 9am) as Newstalk's highest-rated show - and it's now one of my current affairs staples.

Meanwhile, the Borg-like colonisation of that station by Off the Ball (Mon-Fri 7pm, Sat-Sun 1pm) continues. Not content with 21 hours from Monday to Friday and a further dozen (ish) at weekends, the sports show also goes out, in video form, across social media for another 75 minutes every weekday morning. As the programme itself used to amusingly quote Joe Duffy saying, "They never go home, those boys".

In fairness, Off the Ball is good radio. If you're into sport, it's really good: clever, witty, inventive. There's far, far too much of it over the course of a week, but it is good.

And this week I really enjoyed the OTB: AM (Mon-Fri 7.45am) interview with Antrim hurling legend, Terence "Sambo" McNaughton. Anyone old enough to have followed the beautiful game in the 1980s will instantly remember McNaughton, one of the key men on Antrim's historic march to the '89 All-Ireland final: a big, bruising bear with the delicate touch of a smaller man.

For us who do remember, Shane Stapleton's lengthy interview was a real treat. I was astonished to learn that McNaughton started playing senior intercounty at just 16, which must be the youngest-ever, at least in modern terms. He didn't retire then until well into his thirties: 34 for intercounty, three years later for club.

Even then, Sambo never wanted to quit, and like many, nothing has quite replaced hurling in his life since. However, he laughed, there was no choice: "My mind was telling me to get out to the 45 (metre line) - but my body was saying, 'I'm not going!'"

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