I’d love to be completely in the dark about the personal opinions of radio presenters, I’d love them to respectfully ask the hard questions of all sides in a particular debate, to be so well informed that they know what questions to ask, and to know the information that will blow prejudice and ignorance away. OK, time to wake up and take a reality check.
With this in mind I decided to take a closer look at last week’s High Noon, the Newstalk show presented by George Hook. Now, Hook makes no secret of his personal opinions, has his pet subjects (immigration, cyclists, old movies, religion) and while his curmudgeonly grumpy old man shtick can be irritating, most of the time I find him respectful, fair, and sympathetic to conservative views, a rare thing in his profession.
His week got off to a fine start – a lovely interview with Ailish Concur, a young and articulate autistic woman who was offended by something Hook had said and texted him to that effect. Hook was humbled and apologetic and I felt both he and the listener gained some valuable insights.
The next day he had his regular Tuesday slot with American comedian (important to remember) and political commentator Michael Graham. The banter is usually entertaining, and we get some unusual angles on the foibles of US life and politics, but I thought last week’s discussion on public transport fell, untypically, rather flat.
Transport remained on his mind, and on Wednesday he got particularly cranky, lambasting Ciaran Cuffe of the Green Party for using what he saw as dodgy maths in defending the new low speed limits for motorists in certain areas of Dublin.
But an even worse red rag to the Hook bull was a ‘spelling bee’ event where the young participants could only spell in ‘emojis’ (those little icons people send in their phone messages).
Literacy is surely gone to the dogs, or to the apes, as George thought one of his favourite films, Planet of the Apes, with its deterioration of the human species, wasn’t sounding so far-fetched after all.
Later in the show however the mood became more sensitive when he was at his empathetic best, giving voice to a mother, Aisling McNiffe, having difficulties with her son Jack (who has Downs Syndrome and a range of other medical issues), especially when he is out and about – the problem was particularly with the inadequacy of facilities in places like cinemas, inadequacies that excluded him from activities that his disabilities didn’t.
On Thursday, I tuned in and caught George in a moment of prayer, well sort of, as he was reading out the Dáil prayer that the institution’s Committee of Procedure and Privileges had decided to keep. He didn’t voice any objection to the prayer but wasn’t impressed by the wording and thought he, or anyone, could write a better one.
This was followed by a fascinating discussion of how we speak of the dead. Emeritus Professor of DCU, Colum Kenny noted that out of respect and decency we don’t tend to speak ill of the dead but this might stand in the way of a realist assessment of the consequences of certain people’s actions.
On Friday Hook’s guest was another opinionated commentator, Ivan Yates, plugging his new Sunday morning show and offering some interesting views on the bus drivers’ strike.
On a lighter note, Trinity film lecturer Stephen Benedict provided an intriguing analysis of another favourite Hook film, All the President’s Men. Finally we got the ‘Here Come the Girls’ segment, a regular Friday chat between Hook and a few women … it’s a bit of a borderline sexist cringe inducer (discussing sexism, red dresses, nice hair and the bus strike). I’m surprised the ‘girls’ agree to partake!
Another show not constrained by a stifling liberal consensus is Sarah Carey’s Talking Pointshow on Newstalk Saturday mornings, though in a weekend re-jig the show has just been bumped back an hour to 8am which won’t help listenership figures.
Last week’s show was about water charges, which didn’t seem entirely topical with so much else going on, but it was a considered review of the topic away from crisis mode which was useful.
Finally, if you want to hear someone speaking with authority and insight check last Sunday’s This Week (RTÉ Radio 1) for Baroness Nuala O’Loan’s interview on the Garda crisis.