Saturday 14 December 2019

Radio: Listen people, women are for weekends only

Claire Byrne: awaiting the arrival of her second child.
Claire Byrne: awaiting the arrival of her second child.

Eilis O'Hanlon

The good news is that Late Debate is back. The bad news is that Audrey Carville isn't. Which is not to say that new host Cormac O'hEadhra isn't an excellent broadcaster. His handling of Tuesday's inaugural discussion of whether the Government's recent list of mid-term pledges is already out of date - given the encouraging economic signals - was assured and good-humoured; but would it really have destroyed the foundations of RTE Radio One to find another female presenter to take the hot seat?

Especially as Saturday With Claire Byrne has now been replaced for the moment by Saturday With Brian Dowling, while Byrne awaits the arrival of her second child. Again, no disrespect to Dowling, but are women really that hard to find in Donnybrook?

To make matters worse, Wendy Austin is also stepping down from Radio Ulster's daily Talkback show - and for those who've never heard it, think Liveline with a higher IQ. Her departure leaves Good Morning Ulster's Karin Patterson as the sole female fronting a news show on the station. Austin, meanwhile, is going to do a half-hour Sunday business show instead. It hardly heralds a brave new dawn for women on air. Newstalk's probably the worst of the lot. Monday to Friday is practically a woman-free zone.

The message seems to be that women are for weekends and should neither be seen nor heard the rest of the week.

And it's not as if men have to be that good to get on air. I listened to the TED Radio Hour on Newstalk last Sunday, and that was basically two guys waffling on about the night sky. The show originates in the US and supposedly deals in "big ideas", but it feels far too pleased with itself.

BBC Radio Four had its eye on a bigger battle than the one between men and women, as Future Proofing on Wednesday pondered what will happen when civilisation finally reaches 'The Singularity', the moment when machines overtake human intelligence. With computers doubling in power every year, it's estimated this will occur around 2030. After which, we're basically doomed.

Or maybe not. That's the nice thing about technology geeks. Everyone else imagines that the triumph of machines will lead to dystopia. Presenter Timandra Harkness went to Google HQ in California and met boffins who were simply optimistic at the possibilities.

Besides, maybe computers will do a better job of running the world. From Islamic State to the Seanad, Scottish independence to Irish Water, the airwaves are full of people who don't know what they're talking about talking about it anyway. So it was a relief to turn to Monday's Arts Tonight on RTE Radio One, which featured an interview with composer Raymond Deane, whose memoir In My Own Light was published earlier this year. The excerpts from the music were far too brief, but Deane had a fine line in mordant self-deprecation, particularly describing his own approach to composition: "Music keeps coming, whether you like it or not."

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