POP­U­LAR­ITY CON­TESTS

On Liveline, Joe Duffy pays a warm if bit­ter­sweet trib­ute to 2FM’s de­part­ing vet­eran Larry Go­gan; while Ivan Yates is in his el­e­ment giv­ing a hard time to soft tar­gets

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO REVIEWS - MICK HEANEY

It’s fair to say that Liveline (RTÉ Ra­dio 1, week­days) has had its share of jar­ring mo­ments down the years. But there’s a dis­tinct air of dis­com­bob­u­la­tion on Tues­day, as the show’s peren­nial in­tro­duc­tory line – “Hello, good af­ter­noon and you’re very wel­come to Liveline” – is de­liv­ered in a voice that is dif­fer­ent yet in­stantly fa­mil­iar. After the mu­sic ends, the more cus­tom­ary tones of Joe Duffy ap­pear, sound­ing par­tic­u­larly chuffed: “I’ve waited 40 years for Larry Go­gan to say that.”

Duffy thus clears up the mo­men­tary con­fu­sion caused by hear­ing the un­mis­tak­able voice of Go­gan, the ven­er­a­ble 2FM DJ whose de­par­ture from the air­waves – the ana­logue ones, any­way – had ear­lier been an­nounced. “Is that con­grat­u­la­tions or com­mis­er­a­tion?” Duffy asks, in ref­er­ence to his guest’s re­tire­ment from 2FM rather than his pres­ence on Liveline. In fair­ness, as Duffy hosts a trib­ute pro­gramme to Go­gan, he is alive to the bit­ter­sweet na­ture of the oc­ca­sion, which sees the long-serv­ing disc jockey feted across RTÉ all day as he leaves na­tional ra­dio for the dig­i­tal out­lands of RTÉ Gold.

Go­gan him­self sounds as pos­i­tive and mod­est as ever, even as he re­veals that he is un­der­go­ing dial­y­sis. Friends, fam­ily and celebri­ties all voice their ad­mi­ra­tion and love for the man, though Boy­zone mem­bers Ro­nan Keat­ing and Keith Duffy also find time to talk about their most re­cent al­bum. Per­haps the most poignant as­pect, how­ever, comes when Go­gan has to re­mind Duffy that he will still be broad­cast­ing. But there is a gen­uine warm glow to the show, un­der­lin­ing the para­dox that while Go­gan was heard by fewer peo­ple in re­cent years, he re­mained the most pop­u­lar man on Ir­ish ra­dio.

Low­est-hang­ing fruit

The lat­ter ti­tle is un­likely to be be­stowed upon Ivan Yates any time soon, not that the pre­sen­ter of The Hard Shoul­der (New­stalk, week­days) cares much. On Wed­nes­day, he starts his show by be­moan­ing pro­posed strike ac­tion by the Ir­ish Nurses’ and Mid­wives’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion, say­ing that its pay claims are un­jus­ti­fied and would trig­ger a re­turn to “ATM bench­mark­ing” in the pub­lic ser­vice. For good mea­sure, he adds that nurses aren’t grad­u­ates, a claim which prompts a flurry of fu­ri­ous texts.

That Yates should take such a force­ful line with nurses, ar­guably the most ad­mired peo­ple in Ir­ish life, shows that he’s not court­ing pop­u­lar­ity, at least not in the con­ven­tional sense. Hav­ing re­minded the au­di­ence of his no-non­sense cre­den­tials, he goes on to de­cry the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of the­atri­cal luvvies and pam­pered mil­len­ni­als. Given that these twin de­mo­graph­ics are among the low­est-hang­ing fruit in the grumpy old man uni­verse, this is not as fear­less a move as it seems. Far from be­ing a lone dis­si­dent voice, Yates is play­ing to the gallery.

An open let­ter com­plain­ing about the Abbey Theatre pro­vid­ing less work for Ir­ish ac­tors prompts Yates to ques­tion the need for a na­tional theatre, while he also hosts an item bash­ing the sup­posed “snowflake” ten­den­cies of the young. His os­ten­si­bly soft tar­gets turn out to be made of un­ex­pect­edly hardy stuff, how­ever.

Talk­ing to ac­tor and di­rec­tor Alan Stan­ford, now based in Pitts­burgh, Yates com­plains about tax­pay­ers sub­si­dis­ing theatre, wheel­ing out the old straw man ar­gu­ment that “a hos­pi­tal is more im­por­tant than the arts”. But Stan­ford is ro­bust in his re­but­tal. It may be a valid ar­gu­ment to claim arts fund­ing is un­nec­es­sary, he says, but “it’s a par­tic­u­larly stupid one”. Stan­ford points to Ire­land’s out­size artis­tic con­tri­bu­tion, and dis­misses charges that the theatre world is a me­diocre self-ad­mi­ra­tion so­ci­ety as “a con­certed at­tack by the ‘I could just do it my­self just as well’ bri­gade on artists”. It’s a brac­ingly un­apolo­getic de­fence of theatre and the arts in gen­eral.

Sim­i­larly, when Yates tack­les the sup­posed fragility of young peo­ple with Harry McCann, stu­dent and founder of dig­i­tal me­dia start-up Trend­ster, it’s more evenly bal­anced than an­tic­i­pated. Though McCann trots out tropes about the in­clu­siv­ity and cre­ativ­ity, it’s Yates who tri­umphs in the cliche stakes. His th­e­sis mainly con­sists of tired gen­er­al­i­sa­tions about mil­len­ni­als be­ing “wimps and wusses”. McCann sounds by turns an­noyed and amused as he re­jects the claim that his gen­er­a­tion want free hous­ing: “I just don’t want to live in a shoe­box.” As for be­ing un­able to take crit­i­cism, McCann is de­fi­ant: “I hate be­ing called a snowflake for say­ing I’m un­happy about a sit­u­a­tion.”

If the per­pet­u­ally ful­mi­nat­ing Yates sees any irony in com­plain­ing about peo­ple for al­ways giv­ing out, he doesn’t say so. In­stead, he takes de­light in such spir­ited ver­bal jousts, and why not? It makes for great theatre, and he doesn’t even have to pay for it. But such en­coun­ters tend to dis­tract from his more sub­stan­tive items. Yates’s in­ter­views with Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDon­ald about Brexit and with Prof An­thony Staines about the nurses’ strike are con­sid­ered and in­for­ma­tive, but are, alas, less mem­o­rable than name-call­ing.

Man­age­ments­peak

There’s no such drama on Lead­ers Ques­tions WithS­tu­ar­tLan­caster (New­stalk, Satur­days), which has the for­mer Eng­land rugby coach ap­ply­ing his sports ex­pe­ri­ence in a wider con­text. Along with pre­sen­ter Ger Gil­roy, Lan­caster in­ter­views var­i­ous busi­ness per­son­al­i­ties, but it has all the zippy ap­peal of a mo­ti­va­tional sem­i­nar. This is no coin­ci­dence: Lan­caster, now as­sis­tant coach at Le­in­ster Rugby, got the idea for the show after ap­pear­ing on a pod­cast with an Amer­i­can mo­ti­va­tional speaker.

For those who like their lead­ers gung-ho, the pro­gramme is a dis­ap­point­ment. Man­age­ment speak rather than stir­ring rhetoric is the or­der of the day – “the art of lead­er­ship is try­ing to in­flu­ence” is a typ­i­cal sound­bite – bog­ging down a po­ten­tially in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Eir chief ex­ec­u­tive Carolan Len­non. Gil­roy gamely tries to in­ject some vim into his ques­tions, but the show founders on the stolid per­sona of Lan­caster, who be­trays lit­tle in the way of emo­tion. He’s not keen to share mem­o­ries of Eng­land’s dis­as­trous time at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, “be­cause it’s too painful to be hon­est”. Tear­ful can­dour is not Lan­caster’s style.

What could be a stim­u­lat­ing show ends up a mis­fir­ing hash. Whether one is spin­ning discs like Go­gan or stir­ring the crap like Yates, per­son­al­ity is no bar­rier to pop­u­lar­ity. But it helps to have one.

‘‘ If the per­pet­u­ally ful­mi­nat­ing Yates sees any irony in com­plain­ing about peo­ple for al­ways giv­ing out, he doesn’t say so. In­stead, he takes de­light in such spir­ited ver­bal jousts, and why not: it makes for great theatre

PHO­TO­GRAPH: RTÉ

As pos­i­tive and mod­est as ever: Larry Go­gan.

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