Irish Times reviews of RTE Radio 1 are as dull as the reviewees
By Michael Smith
Mick Heaney is the Radio Reviewer of the Irish Times. He formulaically mediates the national medium, I’m looking at you, RTE Radio 1, to the unchallenged readers of the country’s middlebrow every Friday.
We’ve all heard the slag about having a face for radio, how about having the review faculties of a radio-listener? It’s the easiest job in the world, particularly for someone who may have inherited a morsel of the sensibility of his father the literature laureate. Everyone listens, everyone has a view. Now stick it to them.
When I say everyone listens I must admit I do not any more myself listen. Since Covid I’ve shut out the radio. That’s because there’s enough real pandemic in the rest of my life without getting opinion-Covid down the airwaves. The essence of RTÉ is that it is an ideas-free zone. Covid gives it a chance to avoid anything original, idea or otherwise. Definitively better to read a book.
But we don’t always do what’s good for us so how have I weaned myself off radio? They say the best remedy for smoking is to keep an overflowing ashtray next to your bed. I have masochistically tuned the bedroom radio to 98FM. Every day the radio-alarm is programmed to go off at 2pm to curses as I traipse up to turn it off for another twenty-three hours fifty-nine
minutes. The Sound of the City with Barry Dunne. I insist my t sounds be distinguished from ds so there is no negotiating about Barry. Nor has he ever played anything I have heard before. It all sounds like it has been generated by a machine in a car-park in flyover America. ‘Throwback anthems’ are his thing. I would throw them back before they hit the first chorus. Off.
The aversion is strong enough to keep me away from Brendan, Miriam, Claire, Pat. All those purveyors of national conversation.
Anyway I have declared that my opinion on radio is unmitigated by any contact with the real thing for the last six or eight months. Form is everything. Banality is endemic. My only concession is that I sense an undercurrent that the lethal devotion to positivity is now being matched by an equal new lethal devotion to negativity.
Now I’m not going to go into much detail. I don’t have to. Heaney’s job is to review the totality of the oeuvre of the household names. That I know; that we all know. RTÉ’s pillars are unquestioning to the point of answerlessness.
A quick trawl of Heaney on RTÉ’s galacticos.
Tubridy (22 January):“Somehow, Tubridy’s spiel doesn’t drag”.
Byrne (28 August 2020) “What a way to start: Claire Byrne puts Micheál Martin through the wringer. The presenter’s interview with Taoiseach sets tone as she takes over Today show on RTÉ Radio 1”.
Byrne (29 January): “Claire Byrne’s inconvenient facts burst Stephen Donnelly’s bubble. The calmly forensic style of the host unpicks the Minister for Health’s assertions”.
Drivetime (12 February): ‘Drivetime now has the zippiest news coverage on Irish radio’.
RTE Radio generally (15 January): “Joe Duffy et al do what the mother and baby home commission could not”.
He does regularly hammer Ray D’Arcy but it’s not enough.
I want to make special mention of Claire Byrne. And Covid. And the Leaving Cert. Byrne is the Covid queen. She had it, she talks about it all the time, she has people on to talk about it. And… Actually that’s all you need to know. Zero-Covid versus damage to the economy, kids, mental health. Day in day out. Radio and Television. How can she live with herself?
I need to tell you, RTÉ, it’s too much. Stir us. We’re not lobotomised
Take a random rainy day, today, Thursday. Here’s the Today with Claire Byrne schedule. It starts with Covid 19: No GAA Action Until After Easter; followed by Covid 19: Getting Back To School; followed by Covid 19: Vaccinating The Government; and later… How Covid Is Affecting Cancer Treatment.
I need to tell you, RTÉ, it’s too much. Stir us. We’re not labotomised.
Dutifully sequestered at the end of his every article, Heaney’s Radio ‘Moment of the Week’ is where Irish review goes to die. Who’ll ever remember the likes of the moment when Ray D’Arcy (week ending 5 February) “reminded listeners that before Covid there was Aids”?
Or when Seán Moncrieff (November 27) hoped that Covid had permanently “eviscerated the bouncy-castle?
Why does all Heaney’s reviewing aspire to the condition of finding that some second rater has “met his match” in a particular RTE broadcaster? Why does he assume any of this is good? It isn’t. None of it is what he calls “radio gold”. It doesn’t provoke, challenge, teach, edify, amuse. It only entertains in the way the weather does. Apart from Oliver Callan, who brings radio sunshine. Funny and clever.
And that’s just talk radio. Music radio is for morons.
As to people I’d actually listen to? There is (BBC) Radio 4 and the World Service. US NPR. There are podcasts. Melvyn Bragg is erudite and his mind roves. Second Captains is thoughtful about football. Dunphy is compelling though usually – perhaps wilfully – wrong. Blindboy has pzazz and range though his politics seem pedestrian and he doesn’t attack his guests enough. But mostly, except perhaps for some of the colour of local radio, talk audio is deadening. It adds nothing to your life. Turn it off.