Tuesday 16 January 2018

Radio: The rogue elephant in the changing room

Facial injuries: Davy Byrne
Facial injuries: Davy Byrne

Damian Corless

One of the good things to survive the wreckage of the Celtic Tiger pile-up is Lyric FM, an oasis of calm in an ear-splitting world. A soothing mix of light classical, light opera and sweetness and light in general, Lyric was launched at a point when Ireland was losing the run of itself, as the lines got badly blurred between working 'til we dropped and partying like it was 1999, which indeed it was.

At a time when Irish life was becoming frantic and frazzled and shrill, Lyric came along to offer a seductive mental escape for those trapped in a three-mile tailback, fumbling for the right coins to fling in the basket if they ever got to the basket-case M50 toll plaza. The Tiger with its tailbacks is now extinct, but Lyric continues to provide the easy option of shutting out the madding world of clamour and turmoil when it all gets too much.

Instead of disturbing the listener with anything as jarring as a 7am news bulletin in the fashion of more worldly stations, Lyric segues gently from Lyric Through The Night (Mon-Sun, 1- 7am) into Marty In The Morning (Lyric FM, Mon-Fri, 7-9am) so seamlessly you'd hardly notice the changeover. Even the weather forecasts seem somehow brighter on Lyric. Maybe it's the way they tell 'em.

Switching from Lyric early Tuesday to channel-hop between Newstalk Breakfast (Mon-Fri, 6.30-10am) and Morning Ireland (RTE Radio 1, Mon-Fri, 7-9am) was to meet the real world at full blare. On both news shows it was special pleading all round. The farmers were giving it the poor mouth. The postmasters were up in arms, charging that the government seems hell-bent on pushing their customers into the evil clutches of the banks.

Taking their lead from a disgruntled Bishop, mass-going texters vented their fury at politicians always trying to shake them down with church-gate collections.

Then came more texters grousing about whinging fat-cat farmers, postmasters clinging to the past, and the GAA's refusal to confront the rogue elephant in the changing room, the endemic violence that plagues the code.

The running sports story of the week concerned an ugly incident that put Dublin footballer Davy Byrne in hospital with severe facial injuries before a 'friendly' game with Armagh had even began. The Dublin management didn't report the clash to HQ, and the GAA seemed happy to let the matter fade away until an item on Newstalk put the issue firmly in the spotlight.

As the assault dominated sports bulletins and fell open to discussion on more general talk shows, it showed up a distinct division between reporters who might be considered more "embedded" with Gaelic Games than others. To put it bluntly, some sounded more like spokespersons for the Association than dispassionate neutrals as they stressed the GAA's great "determination" to tackle wrongdoing on the pitch and in the tunnel, when the evidence of recent years and decades suggests a blithely a-la-carte GAA attitude to its own rulebook.

And lest that sounds like a gratuitous swipe at the national sports, the same criticism applies to a number of top political reporters who could also be considered far too deeply embedded in Leinster House for our own good, meaning us the listeners. It was good fun to hear a commentator on one of the stations foam at the mouth in response to a glowing review of the stonewalling performance of a key bank-inquiry witness.

Managing to catch both items, and contrast and compare, (and conclude Mr Foaming-At-The-Mouth was spot on), provided the sort of endorphin release that obsessive-compulsive channel-hoppers really go for.

Valerie Cox and Marie-Louise O'Donnell are two of the treasures of Irish radio and both are staples of Today with Sean O'Rourke (RTE Radio 1, Mon-Fri, 10-12am). This week Cox delivered a chilling package from the Family Courts featuring knives, baseball bats and all manner of nasty stuff, suggesting that the spirit of the Borgias is alive and well and living closer than you think.

When she hits her animated stride, O'Donnell can sound like she's working on an accent midway between David Norris and Victor 'I Don't Believe It' Meldrew, but as O'Rourke remarked at the close of her report on pigeon racing: "Marie-Louise, a joy to listen to as ever." At one point, to recreate the release of hundreds of pigeons at the start line, she furiously ruffled sheets of paper into the microphone. The woman does vivid better than anyone else.

The item brought to mind one of the great vox-pops of the old Gay Byrne show, when a Real Dub was asked: "How do homing pigeons find their way home?"

His response: "It's like, how do you find your way home when you're locked. It's the same thing."

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