Saturday 20 January 2018

RTE newsreader doesn't listen in, why should we?

Eilis O'Hanlon

Newstalk's Shane Coleman isn't a DJ. Sitting in for George on Monday's The Right Hook, he can be forgiven for beginning a piece on the death of Lou Reed by playing the late rocker's biggest solo hit, Walk On The Wild Side.

Perhaps the producer might have checked the lyrics first, though? "She never lost her head even when she was giving head" are certainly unusual words to hear on teatime radio. ("Mummy, what does that mean?" "I don't know, dear, why don't we switch to Drivetime on RTE and listen to another angry trade unionist instead?")

Alison O'Connor of the Irish Independent was actually on the rival station that day, urging women to "embrace the F word". Don't worry, she meant "feminist". All too often, she said, she has sat in studios as "the only person without a penis" on the panel". ("Mummy, what's a...?")

She has a point. The campaign to get more women on air is much derided, but is a practical approach to the shocking lack of female voices on Irish airwaves. A number of times recently, it has seemed as if radio stations were collectively in the grip of middle-aged men purporting to believe that the doings of hairy old rockers was the most important issue of the day. It's not only sexist, it's ageist.

Who under the age of 30 really cares about Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan? Music's moved on. Get over it, boys.

The problem, of course, could be bigger than we think. Even newsreader Michael Murphy apparently wasn't listening to Miriam O'Callaghan as she continued her extended occupancy of The John Murray Show last week. She cut to the newsroom only to be met with silence.

"Sorry, I was tuned into Lyric," Murphy admitted when finally realising his mistake. Hardly a ringing endorsement of his own colleagues.

Myself, I find O'Callaghan an engaging and eclectic broadcaster, equally at home discussing books and TV and music as she is with current affairs. That's a rarer skill than you'd imagine.

On the 25th anniversary of the publication of To School Through The Fields, Miriam also invited the lovely, much under-rated author Alice Taylor into the studio.

She recalled coming up to Dublin at the time to be interviewed by Gay Byrne, and the great man himself was on hand to remember people being so "utterly entranced" by her that they pulled over in their cars so they could give her their full attention.

Gaybo beautifully summed up Alice Taylor's appeal, which was that she chronicled a way of life that was lost "whilst somebody was almost looking the other way".

Miriam's easy-going, sympathetic style actually reminds me of Gay himself. There's no higher praise than that.

The big radio news of the week, of course, was the release of the first JNLR figures since Pat Kenny moved to Newstalk.

Based on one month only, they showed the former RTE star hadn't convinced as many listeners to "move the dial" as he surely hoped. His daily listenership of 78,000 is less than the difference between the mid-morning audience for Today FM's Ray D'Arcy (231,000) and 2FM's Ryan Tubridy (152,000). It's early days, but there's clearly still much work to be done.

Sunday Independent

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