Does Ciara Kelly pay any attention to the name of her programme? Not much, judging by Wednesday’s edition of the seemingly self-explanatorily titled Newstalk Breakfast (weekdays). For while Kelly, along with her on-air partner Shane Coleman, covers the news with a vim otherwise absent among early risers, she gives little heed to the sensibilities of listeners who may be eating their morning meal.
In Kelly’s defence, it’s Coleman who kicks off the appetite-curbing conversation about bad personal habits when he describes his disgust at the sight of a woman “expectorating” in the street. (Readers of a tender disposition may wish to skip forward a couple of paragraphs at this stage.) Kelly is less outraged: donning her oft-worn hat as a former GP, she notes that people are currently “smothered” with winter ailments, hence there’s no alternative to orally expelling phlegm in such situations. “What are you supposed to do, swallow?” she asks. “Ah, people are having their breakfast,” Coleman splutters in distaste.
Nose picking is Ciara Kelly’s most-disliked habit, ‘but there’s worse than that, because sometimes people pick their nose and then they eat it.’ This is too much for the genteel Shane Coleman
Kelly is just getting going, however, though once again Coleman cues things up by asking about his cohost’s most disliked habits. Nose picking is her first choice, “but there’s worse than that, because sometimes people pick their nose and then they eat it.” This is too much for the genteel Coleman, who surely speaks for most of us when he reminds his colleague about the audience’s likely eating patterns. To no effect, as it happens. “I do love to squeeze a pimple,” Kelly then confides, ensuring countertops of untouched toast and cornflakes across the country.
It’s all pure vaudeville, of course, in keeping with the duo’s theatrical chalk-and-cheese dynamic. (“Coleman and Kelly” even sounds like a double act from the music-hall era.) Even when in agreement, the pair engage in playful bickering, the better to keep listeners entertained. Discussing the latest price increases for pints and postage, Kelly variously characterises the rises as “another brick in the wall” and “the straw that breaks the camel’s back”, only for her whirl of metaphors to draw a gently teasing response from her opposite number: “What’s the camel in the room?”
Such high-jinks provide the show’s sizzle, but meatier news coverage isn’t neglected. Coleman has an insightful and constructive discussion on the trolley crisis with Dr Brendan O’Shea on Tuesday, before forensically picking apart the call by the Labour TD Duncan Smith for compulsory mask-wearing on public transport the following day.
Even so, the news element of the show can sometimes seem a bit thin. Hefty packages such as Josh Crosbie’s report on protests against refugee accommodation in Ballymun – where the demand to “look after our own” is a troubling refrain – exist alongside items on less pressing, if reliably contentious, subjects. Following the failure of a Green Party motion at Cork County Council to ban hare coursing, Coleman hears the Fine Gael councillor Eileen Lynch describe the calls for such a move as an “attack on rural Ireland”. In truth it’s at best a minor skirmish, despite the efforts of the programme team to drum up a culture war between elitist environmentalists and resentful country dwellers.
The host Kieran Cuddihy confesses that as a student he once went an entire academic year without changing his bedclothes: ‘If you go long enough without washing your sheets they go crisp again’
Leaving aside such attempts at stoking friction, and indeed the stagy arguments between the two presenters, Newstalk Breakfast is an oddly comforting way to start the day. There’s a reassuring familiarity to Coleman and Kelly’s partnership, which allows them to slag off each other yet also lends them a certain authority, even when stories veer towards the flimsy.
As if to cement their bond with audiences during this “cold, dark, dank month”, the duo decry the urge to kick off the new year with puritanical regimes of abstinence and exercise. “We should ease ourselves gently into January with lots of pies, stews and hearty mulled wines,” says Kelly, whetting the appetites of listeners. It certainly beats turning their stomachs.
There are further accounts of unappealing habits at the opposite end of the daytime schedule on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk, weekday). Prompted by that great talk-radio accelerant, the survey of unclear provenance, Kieran Cuddihy ponders the frequency with which sheets should be changed. A flighty atmosphere prevails as Cuddihy hears the bed-linen rotation patterns of his fellow Newstalk presenters Shane Hannon and Andrea Gilligan, with the latter outing herself as a serial launderer. “I just have this terrible fear of getting bed bugs,” Gilligan says forlornly.
In stark contrast, the host confesses that as a student he once went an entire academic year without changing his bedclothes: “If you go long enough without washing your sheets they go crisp again.” It’s another icky revelation, though at least fewer listeners are likely to be eating at 4pm than at breakfast time.
As with his morning counterparts, Cuddihy’s forays into whimsy are offset by chunkier current-affairs segments, such as his interview with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.
But the bulk of the show’s output falls somewhere between hard news analysis and softer lifestyle topics. This approach is exemplified by the regular Common Ground slot, which features the ideologically opposed pair of Regina Doherty, the Fine Gael Senator, and Mick Barry, the People Before Profit TD, trying to find consensus on various issues, in this case on whether billionaires should be allowed to keep their wealth.
Though gimmicky, the item is enlivened by Barry’s dependably unyielding dedication to dismantling “capitalist madness” and Doherty’s habitually contentious pronouncements. “I’m sick to the back teeth of listening to people on the left telling me what a kip this country is, when it’s obviously thriving,” Doherty says, before adding as an afterthought, “That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of ills.” You think?
By turns casually dismissive and tone deaf, Doherty’s assertion really is hard to swallow, though such moments ensure Cuddihy’s show stays compelling.