How low can you go?

February 22nd, 2012

The Irish Times – Saturday, February 11, 2012

RADIO REVIEW: NOBODY EVER WENT broke by underestimating the taste of the public, according to the adage, so it is hardly a shock that the competition for radio listeners sometimes resembles a race to the bottom.

Still, even allowing for The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) recently suffering a slight drop in audience, it was startling to hear the presenter proclaim last week that his programme was aiming for new lows.

As it turned out, Murray was not about to trade down his middlebrow jocularity for a more sensationalist slant. Rather, he sought to explore the low registers of the human voice on Tuesday’s show. with the composer Paul Mealor hoping to capture the lowest vocal note ever recorded, a call for potential singers was issued on Murray’s show. Talking to Poll Moussoulides, a voice coach, and Mary Brennan, a singing teacher, the host quickly steered the conversation from the technicalities of bass notes to the general appeal of deep timbres.

As Murray’s own voice is hardly that of a castrato, this was an unsurprising turn. when Moussoulides said a low timbre suggested “maturity, sexual prowess, strength, fertility”, the host perked up. After his guest said that people with a high-pitched voice felt they lacked authority, Murray sounded positively ebullient, excitedly wondering whether those with deep tones were better able to “persuade, convince and cajole”. by the time Moussoulides cited the “fact” that both men and women prefer male voices on the radio, the item sounded suspiciously like a plug for someone of Murray’s vocal assets.

Nevertheless, the item showed off Murray’s strengths, not so much his rich tones as his grasp of radio’s possibilities. It was fascinating to hear how low the voice can go: an audio clip of the record holder for the deepest singing note sounded less like music than an otherworldly rumble. and the winning entrant in the show’s search for a singer, a voiceover artist from Cork, delivered a performance that was suitably rib-rattling.

In pushing vocals to their limit, Murray used his medium to its full potential, making it easier to forgive his implicit self-promotion.

He may have endured his own trials in the ratings department, but to his credit Ryan Tubridy has never been one to appeal to his listeners’ base instincts. instead, the presenter still constantly urges his audience to seek out the best in themselves, suffusing his show ( Tubridy , 2FM, weekdays) with so much positivity that even Norman Vincent Peale, author of the Power of Positive Thinking , might find it excessive.

Wednesday’s edition provided a prime example. Una, a mother of three from Dublin, called to recount how she had been unable to drive through a junction on the city’s Longmile Road since being hit by a truck there last year. After sympathetically hearing out her story, Tubridy urged her to overcome her fear: she was not only a great driver, he said, but also a great mum and wife. by the end, Tubridy had his caller parroting an improvised self-help mantra that she was going to drive on that road again “because I am extraordinary”.

Tubridy’s exhortations were not purely altruistic. He was thinking of the needs of his show as well. He sent his reporter Dave Sherry to join Una as she attempted to conquer her phobia, airing the outcome the next day. Una said she was “shaking like a leaf”, but with Sherry egging her on she approached the fateful spot. “We’re nearly through,” she said. “We’re through! I did it. Woohoo!”

As Tubridy had pushed Una into taking action, the item risked being exploitative, but the result elicited a warm cheesy glow. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but on this occasion Tubridy’s upbeat approach paid off.

The perils of going downmarket were illustrated on Tuesday’s edition of The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM, weekdays), which featured the on-air spectacle of D’Arcy’s co-presenter Maireád Farrell being adorned with a “vajazzle”, the (apparently) fashionable bling body art applied to the pubic region. D’Arcy had volunteered Farrell for this in her absence, which only added to the air of queasiness. “I’m actually in a bit of a bad mood,” she said. “I’m a bit tired of this being forced into situations I don’t want to be in.”

The longer the show went on, the more uncomfortable the mood grew. an audibly angry Farrell complained of being subjected to such public embarrassment, only to be told by a chuckling D’Arcy to “man up and go with it”. It was, to say the least, an unfortunate attitude to take with a woman understandably reluctant at her private parts being the subject of entertainment.

Radio moment of the week 

Despite his reputation as a master of the political arts, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan was nonplussed on Tuesday’s Morning Irelan d (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).

At the end of an interview on septic-tank inspections, Gavin Jennings lobbed a soft question about the surprise retirement of the Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett, asking Hogan, “As a Kilkenny man, would you be tempted to ask him to come back?”

Hogan duly supplied a light-hearted answer, only be caught offguard by an unexpectedly tough question about public-sector transition teams.

“That’s a change from Lar Corbett, all right,” said Hogan, seemingly exasperated at being blindsided.

To paraphrase the late Séamus Brennan, you’re playing senior hurling now, Phil.

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How low can you go?

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