Saturday 24 February 2018

Radio on TV: Like crushingly dull security footage

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

Damian Corless

There's a very old, very coarse joke ­concerning dogs which ends: ­"Because they can." That line, "because they can", seems the only plausible answer to the question: "Why have radio bosses installed cameras in the studios of Morning Ireland (Radio 1, 7am, Mon-Fri) and Newstalk Breakfast (7am, Mon-Fri)?"

It's like watching crushingly dull security footage of clerks in an ugly accounts office shooting the breeze across their desks, without the faintest chance of catching some culprit doing an inside job on the wall safe. Newstalk's footage is webcast, while Morning Ireland's appears in the nether regions of your TV channels, with the ad breaks blanked out for added irritation. The great advantage radio has over TV, its USP, is that it doesn't root the listener to one spot. You can take it with you walking the dog, or for a drive, or to the shops. You make your own pictures in your head, and that is why radio has survived and thrived in the face of every new media to come in its wake, and will continue to do so.

Shane Coleman has been filling in gamely for the vacationing Ivan Yates on Newstalk's breakfast show in recent weeks, but it's just not the same without the boisterous ex-minister. The chemistry between the mischievous Yates and the endlessly reasonable Chris Donoghue makes them the Keegan & Toshack, the Henry & Bergkamp, the Cole & Yorke of the Irish airwaves. Coleman and Donoghue are too similar in style and outlook to properly animate the contrived "arguments" that have become a staple, but it still matches its RTÉ rival for content and beats it hands down for zest.

Back in the mid-Sixties, Irishman Ronan O'Rahilly set up the pirate Radio Caroline because regular radio wouldn't play The Stones, The Kinks or any of that yobbish rot. In the late Seventies the Irish government reluctantly launched Radio 2 in an unsuccessful effort to sink our own rampant pirates who were seemingly trying to bring down society with inflammable material from the likes of Tom Robinson and The Stranglers.

A generation on, The Stones, The Kinks, The Stranglers and Tom Robinson all turned up on the most recent Weekend on One (Radio 1, 6am Sat/Sun). While this fate is not a precise equivalent of all political careers ending in failure, it does show that the final destination for just about every firebrand rocker accused of undermining western civilisation is an early morning radio berth

This is not to diminish the good work of Weekend's amiable host Cathal Murray, who has the good taste to slip in frequent reminders of a time when rock 'n' roll rebellion actually meant something.

It's just that for those old enough to vividly remember the various moral panics, it just wasn't meant to end up like this. David Bowie, of course, was ahead of the game. At a stage when he was pop's master of outrage, he sang of how time was "waiting in the wings" to tame even the most fired-up rebel with a cause.

On Sunday, Murray played a quartet of worthy cuts from Elvis Presley to mark the 38th anniversary of the death of The King, taking us on a whistle-stop tour from the early menace of 'Mystery Train' to the beginning of his long, slow death-by-Vegas. Elvis didn't so much become all things to all men, as radically different things to different, and very segregated, cohorts of fans. Many who stuck with him through to the bitter end, or came to him via his churn of matinee movies, will go to their graves denying that he was ever the gender-bending spawn of the devil. By the time of his death, even the man himself, tamed and caged, was issuing categorical denials that he'd crashed on to the scene painted in mascara and eyeliner.

If rock 'n' roll is the new easy listening, then perhaps Gaelic games are the new rock 'n' roll. Newstalk's sporty Saturday Panel (Saturday, 2pm) featured a fascinating discussion on the intersect between GAA and pop culture. We learned of the lifelong friendship between former Meath manager Seán Boylan, who has carved out a successful enterprise as a herbalist, and the late Tony Wilson, whose Hacienda nightclub was an entirely different sort of successful herbal enterprise.

The most disturbing item of the week came on Radio 1's Today show (10am Mon-Fri) which covered a motorbike road racing meet, where participants displayed a shockingly blasé attitude to the spectre of death. One stats website for the Isle Of Man TT Races lists 'Winners & Fatalities' and enthusiasts treat this as normal. One man insisted that "more people are killed fishing every year", ignoring that for every road-racer there are 10 million anglers. At the risk of supporting Nanny-Statism, couldn't we have some scheme where these people could swap their bike for an X-Box?

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