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Oliver Callan fires a clean shot at Ryan Tubridy that any hitman would be proud of

Radio: On The Nine O’Clock Show, the stand-in host has a jag at the self-exculpatory impulses that scuppered his predecessor’s planned return

What’s in a name? As a way of emphasising that no one person is bigger than the national network, taking the slot formerly occupied by your highest-paid star and renaming it after its time slot sends out a fairly unmistakable message. No wonder Oliver Callan sounds uncharacteristically chastened after Ryan Tubridy’s old slot, where he has been standing in since RTÉ's pay controversy erupted, is thuddingly rechristened The Nine O’Clock Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays).

Dispelling any notion of ideas above his station, Callan – best known as a biting impressionist – describes his new role as “one of the caretakers”, a phrase that also makes him sound like some kind of shadowy hitman, but no matter. He also suggests that the programme’s various guests are the real stars of the show, so “it may not entirely matter who’s in this chair”. Thus is a line drawn under the whole sorry Ryan Tubridy affair.

Well, not quite. Callan speaks of his sadness at Tubridy’s exit: “There’s a sense of wrong that he won’t be heard here again,” he says, casting Tubs as the guileless victim. But he also has a little jag at the self-exculpatory impulses that scuppered his predecessor’s planned return: “The whole blooming controversy is a bit of a lesson in graciously and humbly accepting second chances.” It’s a clean shot any hitman would be proud of.

But after this initial editorial flourish, Callan gets on with the job of helming a generic midmorning radio talkshow. Heralded by a suitably anodyne theme tune, the newly rebranded programme sticks firmly to the formula of lighthearted monologue followed by human-interest story and/or mildly arresting interview. Callan shows flashes of comic flair – he jokes of having nightmares about a linedancing Dáithí Ó Sé – but spends more time perusing lists of nudist beaches in Europe or talking about seeing a father teach his son to ride a bike. It’s almost parodically banal at times, though no more prosaic than much of Tubridy’s daily shtick. If nothing else, it proves you can get the same content without paying exorbitant salaries.

There are more substantial items. Wednesday’s interview with Irish Times contributor Miriam Mulcahy about her new book on overcoming grief is bracing and honest, as is Tuesday’s discussion with Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan on facing our fears about climate change. But the overall tone of the show is uneven, bouncing from the trifling to the sombre.

...it’s tempting to see The Nine O’Clock Show as the radio equivalent of a vacant lot awaiting redevelopment in a des-res neighbourhood

This is hardly surprising. Callan is a reliable guest host, but he’s untested when it comes to regularly helming a daily magazine. And, judging by his remarks, he doesn’t see his role as a long-term one, so he’s to be forgiven if his heart isn’t entirely in the job.

After a messy split, what now for Ryan Tubridy and RTÉ?

Listen | 28:49
Presented by Bernice Harrison.

Given all this, it’s tempting to see The Nine O’Clock Show as the radio equivalent of a vacant lot awaiting redevelopment in a des-res neighbourhood. As things stand, going down the general-interest talkshow route yet again seems like a dead end. As Callan notes, Tubridy’s voice had a reassuring quality for many listeners, but that one hour of jaunty chat hardly propped up the Radio 1 schedule. With so much in flux at RTÉ, there’s an opportunity for something more imaginative in the coveted time slot.

Much like The Nine O’Clock Show, there’s a predictability to the format of The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), but if the host is worried, he’s not letting on. Back after his holidays, D’Arcy is in bullishly exuberant form, as indeed he seems to have been throughout the whole Tubridy scandal. “It’s beginning to get on my wick that people are heralding the end of the summer prematurely,” he proclaims, urging his audience to resist the urge to go into an autumnal huddle.

Certainly, there’s little sense of back-to-school gloom as D’Arcy resumes duties. His monologues aren’t overburdened with blinding insight – he speaks at length on the appeal of ride-on mowers – but he brings a spiky energy to his interviews. Talking to the American jazz-pop singer Curtis Stigers on Tuesday, the host gently mocks his guest for his luxuriantly coiffed hair back in the 1990s. Talking to Dr Tomás Ryan of Trinity College Dublin about the science of memory and forgetfulness the next day, D’Arcy sounds dubious when the academic says that “the brain is much smarter than you are”. “Ah, come on,” he scoffs.

Ever the controversialist, Morrissey, the band’s lead singer, had praised the IRA’s attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher, adding tension to the often chaotic performances

Such interventions inject some urgency into the encounters, which, while not always edifying, make them more interesting. Taken alongside an enthusiastic conversation on the Indian moon landing with the physics lecturer Kevin Nolan, it’s a lively mix, at least for the cosy talk-radio milieu. Surely Radio 1 needs only one such show.

Amid the various upheavals, Documentary on One: Louder Than Bombs (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) marks the welcome return of the station’s factual strand, as this season’s inaugural offering revisits The Smiths’ tour of Ireland in November 1984. Produced by Donal O’Herlihy and its narrator, David Coughlan, the programme pulls together cultural, social and political threads, placing the visit by the seminal Manchester indie band in the context of economic despair in the Republic and violence in the North. Ever the controversialist, Morrissey, the band’s lead singer, had praised the IRA’s attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher, adding tension to the often chaotic performances.

A slightly frantic air prevails as the producers try to cram so many angles into their story, but it’s also a captivating piece, evoking the atmosphere of the era and capturing why The Smiths meant so much to their fans. It’s an encouraging opening salvo for the new season of the Documentary on One, a series whose no-frills title belies its consistent verve and invention. On radio, what you hear is what counts.

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