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Grumpy boomer bingo: Cliches abound as Pat Kenny plays to stereotype

Radio review: Unfortunately, the Newstalk host stops short of mentioning ‘snowflakes’, so denying listeners a full house

He may be in his 70s, but, seasoned broadcaster that he is, Pat Kenny (Newstalk, weekdays) displays no unconscious bias against those younger than him. Instead, when it comes to stereotyping people of more tender years, Kenny appears very conscious of what he’s doing.

During Tuesday’s discussion of the job market with the recruitment executive Maureen Lynch, for example, the presenter – now the most-listened-to host on Irish commercial radio – can’t resist a jibe when his guest remarks that “time is valuable to professionals, particularly millennials and Gen Zs”. Summoning his most mirthful tone, Kenny yuks: “You have to make time for the gym and shopping for your avocados.” Talk about going for the low-hanging fruit.

Lynch sighs indulgently at this hackneyed characterisation, as overripe as a month-old avocado, but her host is on a roll. “I understand that Gen Z have lots of things to worry about, like climate and things like that,” he says. “So they are highly stressed and they need to pamper themselves.”

Unfortunately, he stops short of using the term “snowflakes”, thus denying a full house to anyone playing an impromptu game of grumpy boomer bingo. True, Kenny also admits he’s only teasing, but it’s still disappointingly predictable stuff, akin to claiming that older men are only interested in golf, cars and military hardware.


Oh, wait. Included on the menu for Wednesday’s show are items on Rory McIlroy’s divorce, Ireland’s charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and the parlous state of the country’s armed forces. At first glance it’s a bill of fare that might be deemed too much for a men’s shed meeting, not least because the marital turmoil of a multimillionaire golfer is a deeply uninteresting subject, however painful it may be for McIlroy and his wife.

Kenny’s segment on electric cars with Conor Faughnan, his regular motoring contributor, is at least more practical, mixing analysis of public charging facilities with useful information on the efficacy of such vehicles. But it’s the show’s third item on EVs in three days, part of a weeklong series under the misleadingly sparky banner of Charged: even if “EVs are the future”, as Faughnan says, it’s a bit excessive.

Monday’s slot features a lengthy discourse between Kenny and Prof Paul Christensen of Newcastle University on the potential flammability of lithium batteries, which fails to flicker, unless technical talk about “thermal runaway” lights your fire. Then again, Kenny famously trained as a chemical engineer, so it might well be the case for him.

Although Kenny can have a preference for certain topics, he presides over his wide-ranging brief with his trademark didactic thoroughness, whether interviewing Taoiseach Simon Harris or chatting about the Cannes film festival

Much more striking is the host’s interview with the Independent TD Cathal Berry on the inadequacy of the Defence Forces to deal with external threats. Berry, a former Army Ranger, says that years of poor resourcing and chronic understaffing mean Ireland is vulnerable to hostile forces. “We have no primary radar, no sonar, no anti-drone technology, no air defence, one ship that can be put to sea, no air interceptors,” he says. “It’s not normal in any western democratic country.”

Berry paints an alarming picture but doesn’t advocate Nato membership; in terms of neutrality, he believes that increased military capability is a prerequisite rather than a hindrance. “Neutral Switzerland is armed to the teeth,” the deputy says. “We would like to be neutral, but I don’t think we are currently. We’re just defenceless.” Kenny appears sympathetic to his guest’s downbeat assessment, possibly overly so for a current-affairs presenter. But given Russian aggression and general global uncertainty, it should be conversation of interest to everyone, not just men of a certain age.

Similarly, although Kenny can have a preference for certain topics, he presides over his wide-ranging brief with his trademark didactic thoroughness, whether interviewing Taoiseach Simon Harris or chatting about the Cannes film festival with the entertainment journalist Dee Reddy. It would be wrong to pigeonhole Kenny, even if he occasionally does so with others.

The question of supposed discrimination against the youthful arises on Monday’s Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when its presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra hears debate on proposals to raise the legal age for buying cigarettes to 21 years. Simon Clark of the pro-smoking group Forest is suitably annoyed at the mooted measures, saying that 18-year-olds can vote, drink and drive, so they should be old enough to make this decision. “We are infantilising the next generation of young people,” he laments. When Ó hEadhra highlights a poll showing most 18- to 24-year-olds in favour of the move – “Are you maybe not infantilising them by assuming what they say?” he archly inquires – his guest notes the perils of a majority removing rights from a minority.

Ó hEadhra may occasionally overegg his joker persona, but the presenter is a tenacious inquisitor, ready to pounce on any slip-up

It’s a valid point, though so is that of the anti-tobacco campaigner Prof Luke Clancy: “Cigarettes kill half of the people who use them.” And Clark overplays his libertarian-tinged hand by objecting to the word “addiction” when it comes to smoking. This is a red rag to Ó hEadhra, who has few peers when it comes to righteous exasperation. “Ah, come on, no, no, no,” the host snorts. “That’s fallacious.”

Such instances emphasise Ó hEadhra’s importance to the Drivetime formula, beyond his playful on-air relationship with his co-host Sarah McInerney. He may occasionally over-egg his joker persona, but the presenter is a tenacious inquisitor, ready to pounce on any slip-up. Quizzing the Fine Gael Senator John McGahon about planned cuts to payments for newly arrived Ukrainian refugees after 90 days, the presenter imagines the plight a mother of two on day 91: “Where do I go?” The senator says refugees can apply for housing-assistance payments, only to be corrected that they are ineligible for such grants. This prompts Ó hEadhra to renew his questioning with even greater alacrity: “Where do they go then?”

McGahon struggles to answer convincingly, a vindication of Ó hEadhra’s approach to interviews; less so of the Government’s attitude to those fleeing war. Conscious bias is never a good look.

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