Bibi Baskin is back to set the air­waves alight once more

Ray D’Arcy’s in­ter­view with for­mer broad­caster shows what Ir­ish ra­dio is miss­ing

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Mick Heaney

In a week when RTÉ is stung by charges of a gen­der pay gap, a trail­blazer for women broad­cast­ers on the State net­work turns in a bravura ra­dio per­for­mance – at the ex­pense of her male coun­ter­part to boot. Back in the 1980s Bibi Baskin was the first woman to host her own tele­vi­sion chat­show on RTÉ. Now she bosses the air­waves with such ir­rev­er­ent en­ergy that it un­der­scores the ab­surd lack of women in high-pro­file po­si­tions on Ir­ish ra­dio, never mind the scan­dalous dis­par­ity in salaries.

The only prob­lem with Baskin’s ap­pear­ance on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) is that she’s not get­ting paid for it. In­deed, as she tells her host, RTÉ shows no in­ter­est in em­ploy­ing her. She is on air only be­cause D’Arcy is broad­cast­ing his show from Clon­akilty, Co Cork, near Baskin’s home.

But, as her host knows, she is on at a timely junc­ture. Open­ing the show, he en­thuses about the lo­cal sights. “I should be pay­ing RTÉ to work here,” he quips be­fore drily not­ing the “un­easy laugh­ter” among the au­di­ence in at­ten­dance. Sure enough, when he talks to Baskin he goes straight to the is­sue of pay in­equal­ity.

Baskin sets a spir­ited tone from the off: “Are you go­ing to take me on, mate?” Ad­dress­ing the topic to hand, she be­lieves in “the old prin­ci­ple of equal pay for equal work” but adds that peo­ple with more ex­pe­ri­ence should get more money. “So if, for ex­am­ple, RTÉ were to give me a chat­show . . .” she muses, to much mirth. But she adds that such a de­vel­op­ment is highly un­likely.

As for when she was ac­tu­ally work­ing at RTÉ, she says she was well paid but “didn’t go around won­der­ing what the men were get­ting”.

As might be gleaned, Baskin is no shrink­ing vi­o­let, ei­ther in per­son or in her ca­reer path: af­ter a stint in UK me­dia she spent 20 years run­ning a ho­tel in In­dia. Opin­ing that Ir­ish women seem short on con­fi­dence, she sums up her own credo as “what’s the point of be­ing afraid?”

D’Arcy, for his part, de­scribes him­self as a wor­rier. If that’s the case, go­ing out on the road does him the power of good. He sounds en­er­gised as he hosts a week of shows around the coun­try. In Clon­akilty the lively am­bi­ence and zingy in­ter­ac­tion with guests such as the singer John Spil­lane and the au­thor Louise O’Neill con­trast with the hide­bound at­mos­phere that can pre­vail when D’Arcy is in the stu­dio.

Baskin is the high­light of the show, with D’Arcy sound­ing slightly over­whelmed by her per­son­al­ity. Only ten­ta­tively does he raise the fa­mously rude story as­so­ci­ated with his guest, in­volv­ing a caller who told the late Gerry Ryan where he wished to be buried. (Google it.) Equally, how­ever, D’Arcy is keenly aware of his guest’s abil­i­ties. “I know you’d be an as­set to RTÉ,” he says.

But D’Arcy is un­likely to worry about los­ing his spot to Baskin any time soon. For every Mar­ian Fin­u­cane there are any num­ber of Bibi Bask­ins (or Car­rie Crow­leys), broad­cast­ers who may once have flour­ished briefly but aren’t af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to make their ex­pe­ri­ence tell in the longer term.

Over on New­stalk women are even less audi­ble than on RTÉ: as­ton­ish­ingly, the Drive co-an­chor Sarah McIn­er­ney is the only fe­male pre­sen­ter across the en­tire week­day ros­ter. But with a gen­eros­ity be­fit­ting a Saudi prince the sta­tion gives women the chance to host shows on week­end morn­ings and evenings, for up to an hour at a time. Some of the pre­sen­ters, such as Orla Barry of cul­ture pro­gramme The Green Room (New­stalk, Satur­day) have pre­vi­ously had daily prime­time talk shows of their own, only to get shunted aside. Oth­ers, such as Sarah Carey on

Talk­ing Point ( New­stalk, Satur­day), have had their al­ready early slots pushed far­ther down the sched­ule. Which is a shame, be­cause Carey helms a stim­u­lat­ing dis­cus­sion that de­serves a broader au­di­ence than an 8am week­end slot can of­fer, when she tack­les the ever-febrile sub­ject of mil­len­ni­als and their sup­posed re­fusal to grow up.

Carey hears from James Ka­vanagh, a twen­tysome­thing whose job as a so­cial-me­dia en­trepreneur fits into the par­o­dic Gen­er­a­tion Me stereo­type. On the face of it he does lit­tle to dis­pel this im­age. When his host ac­cuses mil­len­ni­als of be­ing nar­cis­sis­tic Ka­vanagh replies, “It’s a great thing to love your­self.”

Carey, a lively broad­caster who can veer from be­ing per­cep­tively coun­ter­in­tu­itive to wil­fully provocative, han­dles her guest well. She notes that his an­swers will doubt­less en­rage older lis­ten­ers but gives him the space to ex­pand on his thoughts. (“I’m quite a lov­ing per­son,” he adds.)

Ka­vanagh’s gen­er­a­tion finds a more ef­fec­tive cham­pion in the psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor Mau­reen Gaffney, a baby boomer who makes sev­eral telling ob­ser­va­tions about both mil­len­ni­als and her own peers. Gaffney char­ac­terises young peo­ple’s com­par­a­tive re­sis­tance to set­tling down as a “pe­riod of in­tense ex­plo­ration”, adding that if peo­ple used to get mar­ried younger it had some­thing to do with the un­avail­abil­ity of pre­mar­i­tal sex.

Gaffney also sug­gests there is also a healthy side to nar­cis­sism, in­clud­ing stand­ing up for your­self. It is in this area that she feels mil­len­ni­als ex­er­cise self-love, rather than ex­press­ing toxic feel­ings of en­ti­tled su­pe­ri­or­ity. More­over, Gaffney says this in­crease in as­sertive­ness “has mainly been among women”.

It’s the kind of brac­ing point that makes dis­cus­sions on shows like Carey’s mem­o­rable and worth­while. Clearly, the air­waves could do with more as­sertive women.

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