Kenny vs O'Rourke: should you turn the dial?
on 03/09/2013 00:00:00
By Seán McCárthaigh
To move the dial or not? That is the question for radio listeners as two giants of the airwaves commenced battle for the first time yesterday.
Fittingly, on the closing day for transfers in the soccer world, Pat Kenny made his much-awaited debut on Newstalk 106-108 FM since his surprise move from RTÉ after 41 years with the national broadcaster.
The first outing for The Pat Kenny Show, with a new sponsor on board, Energia and its apposite slogan, "switching has its rewards", will have reassured listeners that the PK brand remains unchanged - a high-profile celebrity (Bono), breaking news (Seamus Heaney's funeral), political interviews (Brendan Howlin) and a topical item (infertility,) with yesterday's programme understandably weighted towards items that would generate their own headlines (Ivan Yates on his bankruptcy).
The only immediate sign of the change was the absence of the familiar Today with PK intro music, which has been inherited in a revamped form by his replacement, Seán O'Rourke.
Instead, the Pat Kenny Show is heralded by Coldplay's Charlie Brown - which cynics might observe is a safe, predictable group heralding the arrival of a presenter of the same persuasion.
Certainly, Kenny is not getting paid peanuts to present a formula that is tried and trusted, albeit with a new production team. But the format was predictably familiar.
Although an interview with U2's Bono might generally be regarded as an exclusive, the pre-recorded conversation dragged somewhat. For the running time of 20 minutes, the rock star's monotone drawl held forth on a range of topics, from the death of Heaney to wife Ali's fashion label, from daughter Eve's burgeoning film career to the band's hopes to release a new album in 2014.
Rambling and soft-focussed rather than cutting-edge, Kenny steered clear of thorny subjects such as U2's tax affairs in an item that was in effect, two neighbours - both are Dalkey residents - engaging in light banter.
The second item was a topical but largely uncontroversial interview with the general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body on new legislation governing school enrolment policy.
The highlight of Kenny's first Newstalk broadcast was his interview with Ivan Yates on the former government minister's bankruptcy and the pressures it brought on himself and family.
The piece played to all Kenny's strengths, as he teased out the angles of the role Yates played in his own downfall, as well as the relative culpability of banks and politicians in the whole sorry mess, in a gentle yet probing style.
Although Newstalk opens itself to the same criticism as RTÉ, with the station interviewing its own employees as guests, the Yates interview demonstrated Kenny doing what he does best - not shirking the uncomfortable questions, such as asking his new colleague if he had chosen "the coward's way out" in seeking to avail of Britain's more lenient bankruptcy laws.
The second hour of the programme began with an interview with Newstalk reporter Fergal O'Brien on mourners arriving at Seamus Heaney's funeral Mass, followed by an in-studio interview with the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, which provided interesting personal insight on the new Pope.
The additional 30 minutes on top of the two-hour show he presented with RTÉ allows Kenny to conduct longer interviews with his guests - a factor that worked well with Yates but less so with Bono and Brendan Howlin.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was the big political interview but the Labour TD is so polished at defending the Government's track record and brushing off criticism that it led to somewhat dull listening, despite firm quizzing by Kenny.
Two other items, on TV3's new show about Irish Travellers in the US and an interview with a leading expert on infertility, were generally interesting and informative and such pieces will form the backbone of the programme's future material.
An assured, confident start by Kenny on Newstalk - but no real surprises in that.
Switching onto Kenny
Style: Polished, confident, unflappable.Radio has always been Kenny's best medium.
Content /guests: Largely interesting mix, if some items a tad dull, through no fault of the presenter.
Profile of listenership: Somewhat unknown. To a large degree dependent on how many move the dial.
Salary: Reportedly €450,000 per annum, but Kenny is not saying. Won't become public knowledge now he is no longer with RTÉ.
Star rating: 4 out of 5. Kenny was, and remains, the country's best radio broadcaster. Only time will tell if the move to Newstalk changes that.
ASSURED AS EVER, EVEN APOCALYPSE MAY BE WELCOMED
By Noel Baker
By the time Today with Sean O'Rourke ran to an end, it was edging ever closer to the genial host's old slot at lunchtime.
Maybe that's one reason why the Galway man sounded so comfortable with his new brief on day one of the Radio Wars.
It was a special kind of day, given the morning was dominated by the funeral of poet Seamus Heaney, broadcast live from Donnybrook, and with O'Rourke the steady hand at the tiller.
The first hint that something was different, if a little similar, was the updated version of the sting music into the show, an amplified stereo version, and then the surefooted intro.
There wasn't a hint of nerves as O'Rourke read through the billboard, and he sounded positively ebullient as he announced he was delighted to be back as scheduled on Sept 2, just in an earlier and longer-running time slot.
"What a prospect," he declared.
The shadow cast by Kenny, hitherto the dominant voice at this time of the day, meant this was 'an event', but O'Rourke doesn't tend to be overawed by much. He wished Pat all the best and poked gentle fun at this middle-aged Blur Vs Oasis-style pow-wow, first by referring to his own promo ad - bizarrely, one aired during the first ad break - and then by introducing Oliver Callan, who in the guise of Pat, Sean, Joe Duffy, and others, deftly lampooned the whole Radio Wars motif.
O'Rourke also made a direct reference to "the dial", so synonymous with Newstalk's campaign for Kenny's programme, adding that listeners wouldn't want to be moving anywhere else.
As for the rest of the morning's content, it wouldn't be unfair to liken it to a soft opening. Heaney's funeral dominated proceedings and O'Rourke's first guest, the cerebral and entertaining Edna O'Brien, was a perfect foil for reflections on the poet's life. Almost every interview, including the one with new Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt, referenced Heaney's passing.
The bit of devilment in O'Rourke's questioning was also present and correct, such as directly asking Schmidt if his attempts to cite Paul O'Connell for an altercation on Leinster player Dave Kearney would impact on his choice of Ireland captain. Or when he put it to John McColgan of Riverdance fame that the merging of his World Irish site with Niall O'Dowd's Irish Central was because he lost the initial scrap for online supremacy.
His interview with former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, the kind of exchange you might expect in his former lunchtime slot, created a newsline which made the 11am bulletin.
While Pat Kenny always appeared on a different wavelength to Des Cahill, often leading to delightfully odd exchanges over the sports news, O'Rourke's over-the-counter patter meant there was nothing in the way of Colemanballs.
Then, come 11.30am, and time to switch to the Heaney funeral service. This is the epitome of what RTÉ does so well - opening up the schedule, covering events comprehensively, and delivering them into the kitchens, cars, and living rooms of the nation. O'Rourke didn't miss a beat.
A fine broadcaster, O'Rourke will nevertheless take some time to properly fill this slot, and the presence of Kenny up the dial should ensure continuing high standards. His twinkling charm doesn't grate the nerves but, undoubtedly, there will be challenges - it's hard to imagine him doing a cooking slot, for starters, or interviewing an indie band.
For my tuppence worth, if the bomb ever drops and the world is coming to an end, I hope RTÉ have already had the wit to get O'Rourke to pre-record the news of our impending doom.
Somehow, his authoritative, sometimes chuckling style would help make the prospect of armageddon seem slightly more palatable.
Switching onto O'Rourke
Style: Judging anything after one day is tricky, but O'Rourke transplanted his News At One style into the 10am slot with ease.
Content/guests: Writer Edna O'Brien, Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt, journalist Niall O'Dowd, Riverdance creator John McColgan, Sheila Nunan of INTO, sports news, and satirist Oliver Callan.
Profile of listenership: Vast swathes of the country who don't listen to 2FM or Today FM - but who could be tempted to switch to Newstalk now Pat Kenny has crossed over.
Salary: In 2011, he earned €208,801
Star rating: 4 out of 5.