Entertainment Radio

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Radio: The incredible lightness of being smart and funny

Newstalk's Sean Moncrieff
Newstalk's Sean Moncrieff
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

"Stuff That Changed the World" is one of those quirky, but intelligently handled, items that make Moncrieff (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 2pm) one of Irish radio's most consistently interesting shows.

The idea, as with many great ones, is simple: Sean and one Simon Tierney talk about things which - you're way ahead of me - have changed the world in a seismic way.

The twist is that these aren't the obvious ones: those huge events or inventions which everyone is aware of altering world history, e.g. the combustion engine utterly redrawing our physical and psychological landscapes.

Sean and Simon instead look at humble artefacts such as toasters, wheelchairs, the omnibus, camouflage and, this week, sun-cream. It's madly informative and strangely fascinating in a low-key sort of way; and, this being Moncrieff, it's fun as well.

I also like the "Tell Me Why?" section, where Graham Finlay answers those persistent but seemingly inconsequential questions that bedevil us all. For example, why do we bite our nails, why do military operations get given a name and - bane of my everyday existence - why do we walk into rooms and then forget why we're there?

I would imagine that it's much harder than it seems to make something sound so fluffy and easy. Rather like how actors usually say that comedy is more difficult to get right than heavy drama, a show like Moncrieff straddles a very tricky, and ill-defined, line between light and serious. It's a tribute to his skills that he, and the show, rarely lose their balance.

Dermot & Dave (Today FM, Mon-Fri 9am) similarly occupies a radio demilitarised zone, somewhere between "straight" talk radio and out-and-out pop-driven chatter. Their show is sillier than Moncrieff, far closer to the latter than the former of those two poles. Yet, again, it's probably harder than you'd think to make something this daft and frivolous, without it coming across as laboured and forced; or worst of all, simply unfunny.

Dermot Whelan and Dave Moore's double-act works well because they're likeable, they're easy-going, they have good chemistry - DW is the (relative) jokester to DM's (relative) straight man - they don't take themselves too seriously and don't seem to particularly care about being cool. And, like Moncrieff, they have amusing regular slots: "Dave's World", "Say Stuff That Suits The Music". Yes, it's pretty inane and you've forgotten the whole thing even before you've switched off the set. So what? The show is funny and entertaining, albeit probably best consumed in regular small bites, rather than a lengthy binge. And this week's spoof Eurovision song, Calculator Bear, was solid gold.

The only major issue I'd have with Dermot & Dave is that their personalities are reasonably similar, and their voices are quite similar, so I often have trouble working out which of them is speaking. Maybe one of them could use a voice-changer device, as the killer does in Scream? Something like that.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Dawn Chorus (Radio 1, Sat 12am), Derek Mooney's hugely ambitious, and hugely praiseworthy, expansion of his long-running radio piece, heralding the arrival of spring.

For seven hours, the show ranged across the continent (and beyond; this year Australia and India were also included), following the rising sun as it was greeted by a million avian voices in one of nature's most breath-taking spectacles. There was also a TV tie-in, NatureLIVE, on Monday.

I'm not a massive birdwatcher, but the dawn chorus is sublime - Mooney, and RTÉ, deserve enormous credit for bringing it to our ears.

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