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Newstalk host Kieran Cuddihy isn’t easily silenced, even when his mouth is full

Radio: Newstalk host tucks into burgers while taking on bigger issues

A garrulous broadcaster by nature, Kieran Cuddihy is rarely stuck for words. But it turns out there’s a simple way to keep him quiet: just give him a hamburger. On Monday’s edition of The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekdays), Cuddihy discusses the decision of a certain golden-arched fast-food chain to change its burger recipe with reporter Henry McKean, who brings in – brand name alert! – Big Macs and Quarter Pounders for the host to sample. The presenter digs in so enthusiastically that he’s caught off guard when asked for his verdict on the food. “My mouth is kinda full, Henry,” he mumbles contritely. After that, Cuddihy won’t be chewing the fat on the airwaves for some time.

In fairness, as gaffes go, it’s not so much a whopper as an unwanted pickle. When it comes to other matters, Cuddihy isn’t so easily silenced. For example, he spends much time focusing on the persistent delays endured by children requiring surgery for scoliosis. The host has long been interested in this subject – as a reporter, he was covering the story for Newstalk back in 2015 – but the imminent elevation of Simon Harris to taoiseach adds a fresh impetus, given the Fine Gael leader’s unfulfilled promise when minister for health that no child would wait more than four months for spinal procedures.

To this end, Cuddihy talks to parents, politicians and surgeons. Most movingly, on Wednesday he hears from 19-year-old TJ Coughlan, who uses a wheelchair after surgery to correct his spinal condition was delayed so long that it became unsafe to operate. Despite his chronic pain, TJ is remarkably matter-of-fact, speaking about his campaigning efforts with his mother Amanda: “The younger generation shouldn’t go through what I went through.”

As well as covering the human side of the story, the host also learns about the practical problems of expanding surgical services, such as staff recruitment. As far as Cuddihy is concerned, it’s all connected to a bigger issue. “When people have been speculating about the challenges Simon Harris faces as taoiseach, a pattern begins to emerge,” he says on Monday. “We can’t recruit nurses and those we train are emigrating – that’s actually a housing problem.”

Hitting his stride, Cuddihy traces staffing deficits in the mental health, disability and school sectors back to the same source. “You know where I’m going – it’s a housing problem.”

He even suggests the matter has exacerbated anti-immigration demonstrations. “If we didn’t have nearly 14,000 homeless, if we didn’t have long waiting lists for social housing, if young people weren’t relegated to their mother’s box room or Bondi Beach, I bet any money those protests wouldn’t be half the size they are.” It’s less splenetic rant than impassioned plea, but exemplifies Cuddihy’s readiness to raise his voice when required.

The host isn’t always in high dudgeon, of course. There are considered interviews with Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, who insists he’s never had designs on leading the country, and with Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who makes soothingly diplomatic noises about the prospect of a new taoiseach before naming his favourite books, the main reason for his appearance. Cuddihy even chances another food-related item, discussing the price of Easter eggs with reporter Simon Tierney on their regular Shopping Trolley Hotline slot. On this occasion, however, Cuddihy forgoes the temptation to tuck in: his show works better when he’s sinking his teeth into meaty subjects rather than scarfing down junk food.

Elsewhere, the recent uptick in the bill of fare on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) continues apace. Not only does the host sound in brighter form, he’s pulling in celebrity guests you might actually have heard of, not to mention the occasional bona fide star. After interviewing a genuine A-lister in the form of Pierce Brosnan on last Friday’s show – in which the former James Bond star made international gossip headlines by endorsing British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the next 007 – D’Arcy maintains standards on Monday when he speaks to Guy Garvey, frontman of English band Elbow.

Garvey brings warmth and wit to proceedings, as well as his guitar: he and fellow bandmate Mark Potter perform songs live in studio. Meanwhile, D’Arcy is in relaxed form, pinging off the conversation. When Garvey says Irish audiences are the best in the world, the host suspects his guest is playing to the gallery – “Ah, come on” – but the singer sticks to his guns: “No, they really are.” Garvey also contributes his own dry asides, casting doubt on the old chestnut that age is only a number: “It’s what you start saying when you hit 50.”

As the last remark shows, D’Arcy hasn’t suddenly decided to chase a buzzy young demographic. He still sounds perplexed by aspects of contemporary life, such as the growing popularity of voice notes; he sounds bemused when a caller, Elaine, recounts leaving a 43-minute message for a friend. But at least the likes of Garvey bring a certain indie rock (or at least dad rock) cachet.

True, the host promptly blows any incipient street cred by speaking to zany English TV presenter Timmy Mallet the following day, but claws back respectability on Wednesday by chatting to former footballer John O’Shea, currently the temporary manager of the Republic of Ireland. It’s not a hardball encounter – “We did very well in both games, considering” is the host’s faintly damning take on O’Shea’s record of a draw and a defeat – as D’Arcy unsuccessfully tries to divine whether his guest will be made the permanent Irish manager. But the item underlines the relative rise in D’Arcy’s fortunes of late. While hardly undergoing a renaissance – his on-air persona is probably too entrenched for public attitudes to change radically – the host has weathered the storm engulfing RTÉ to emerge in better shape. Given the situation, that’s not a bad takeaway for D’Arcy.

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