Thursday 23 November 2017

Trivia adds to the awkward life of Ryan

Ryan Tubridy was at the RTE 2fm summer schedule launch
Ryan Tubridy was at the RTE 2fm summer schedule launch

Bagging the first joint interview with Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his deputy in front of a live audience was quite a coup for Today FM.

Tuesday's Last Word over-ran its normal time slot by half an hour but it was worth it as both men made for engaging company, with a neat line in deadpan humour. Roy Keane made sure right at the start to say hello to the elephant in the room, as he was asked why he hadn't been in Brazil to watch Germany become world champions. "It wouldn't be the first World Cup I've missed," he quipped. The boil was lanced. Everyone could relax.

That the interview was on Today FM rather than RTE emphasises the shift in Irish broadcasting. When Saipan happened, the station was only a few years old. Newstalk was only a few months old. Now whilst both still struggle at times to compete against RTE's unfair advantage, the product itself is strong, distinct, often superior.

Tubridy is a case in point. A couple of weeks ago he explained the thinking behind one particular item on his 2fm show by declaring: "It's St Swithin's Day, things get a little bit quiet, that's why I'm talking about dolphins." Fair enough. But what was his excuse this week as, amongst other less than exciting items, Ryan found time to announce that "Ireland's favourite dessert is pavlova" and to conduct an interview with a teenage Rubik's Cube champion?

Even he sounds a bit embarrassed by some of the subjects which make it on to air, and flounders at times to keep the conversation going. This diet of trivia is a waste of his talents. It's as if RTE doesn't know what to do with him, and, more importantly, doesn't know what the show is meant to be. Its direct competition on RTE is Today With Sean O'Rourke, which has settled into dull worthiness; on Newstalk, it's The Pat Kenny Show, which ploughs a similar furrow, though Pat is a much more relaxed broadcaster these days; and Ray D'Arcy on Today FM is comfortable and confident in his role.

In a medium where being able to talk to strangers as if they are friends is crucial - look at Gay Byrne and Gerry Ryan, both with very different styles but both masters of intimacy - Tubridy's awkwardness is a problem. If anything, 2fm's mid-morning slot now most resembles the mix offered by John Murray, though Murray's discussion of fairy trees on Monday showcased his ability to handle potentially silly and whimsical items with a straight face, recognising that, whilst the subject of fairies may be trivial to many, the desperate people leaving messages at the trees have real problems which deserve respect and sympathy.

It was also interesting to note from Monday's show the fact that the Danes are the happiest in Europe apparently has less to do with their social and political system than with a genetic predisposition to higher levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. When science itself is undermining their arguments, surely even the most die-hard fans of Scandinavian-style socialism must recognise the game's up.

Sunday Independent

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