Thursday 26 April 2018

Shouting out to the year just in and year just out

Marty Morrissey. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Marty Morrissey. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Looking back and looking forward - sure how else would you mark the turning of another year? Radio, as usual, was absolutely glutted with retrospectives and reminiscences, rune-casting and forecasting.

I particularly enjoyed The Hard Shoulder's (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 4pm) predictions of the year ahead in politics (it'll be dominated by the Repeal the Eighth referendum campaign - shudder); a collection of the best interviews from 2017 on that excellent science programme Futureproof (Newstalk, Sat 12pm); Reasons to be Cheerful (Radio 1, Mon 9am), in which Marty Morrissey and guests welcomed in the new year - some of whom I really like, others not quite so much; and Final Partings (Radio 1, Sun 1pm), Jim Lockhart's annual look back over the well-known musical figures who passed away in the year just gone.

I also liked the suitably nostalgic REM: Out of Athens (Radio 1, Tue 10pm), Ken Sweeney's documentary on the legendary American alt-rockers. Last year, he brought us an equally fine programme on The Blue Nile; the best thing about these documentaries is that Sweeney is also a former musician.

He gets music. He understands how it's made, why it works, what it means, what it does to us and for us. He's been there, as a creator and performer, and remains there as a listener and fan.

Here, in a series of interviews with band members - those charming Southern accents! - record producers and others, he explores what exactly made REM special to their many devotees. Funnily enough, the impression you're left with isn't so much their talent, as the fact that they seem like really, fundamentally decent people. A little soundness goes a long way.

Anyway, 2018 - welcome aboard. I wonder what we can expect on radio over the next 12 months? Let's look into the crystal ball. Here are five predictions for the year ahead:

1. We can safely assume that the abortion referendum will dominate the airwaves like an especially dismal force of nature. Radio has a habit, at the best of times, for forcing people into simplistic and antagonistic positions; when it comes to abortion, that unfortunate tendency is magnified. The next several months of current affairs radio will be, if not quite hellish, certainly exhausting.

2. Even more mention of Donald Trump and Brexit. You're probably thinking, how would that even be technically possible, unless they extend the length of a day to 25 hours or something? I don't know. I just know that these two hideously tedious news stories will continue to expand, and colonise, and finally devour radio as we know it.

3. Also more sport, all over the shop. (See Trump/Brexit above.) The reason is pretty straightforward: sport is popular, it's relatively cheap and easy to cover on radio…and it's the kind of thing that anyone can bluff about, which helps fill those endless hours of "discussion" and "analysis".

4. The Newstalk and Today FM ban on Irish Times journalists will be lifted - but the point will have been made and the lesson learned, with the Old Lady of d'Olier Street (I know, it's Tara Street now, but that doesn't sound as good) not quite as trigger-happy in calling for broadcasters' heads to roll.

5. Local radio to remain as strong as it currently stands, both in terms of JNLR ratings and in the hearts and minds of listeners. We in the "Dublin 4 liberal media" ivory tower tend to overlook the importance of local media in Ireland: newspapers and, especially, radio. People like to hear about what's going on in their area, and they like variety, of tone and opinion. They don't generally get that from the national media.

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