Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are Lyric FM Presenters Fit for Purpose?

Marty Whelan is a gentleman. Marty Whelan is self-effacing, witty, personable, and a professional to his fingertips. He’s a gentleman and an example to whole younger generation of broadcasters who are not fit to hand him his pearly hairbrushes before he goes on camera. But my God, Marty Whelan has no business presenting the Breakfast Show on Lyric FM.

When Lyric FM celebrated its tenth birthday two years ago its head honcho told the nation that the great thing about Lyric FM is that they put music first. The most important thing for them when choosing presenters is the music. Everything else comes second.

An Spailpín has no reason to doubt this man. But it does seem a coincidence that, in as small a broadcasting pond as Ireland’s, the persons with sufficient classical music knowledge, appreciation and ability to share that appreciation all happen to be on the RTÉ payroll.

Marty Whelan. Lorcan Murray. Geri Maye. Gay Byrne. Frank McNamara, for God’s sake. After a while, there’s just too many of them for it to be a coincidence.

George Hamilton, in fairness to him, is an exception to this. He witters on during his Saturday show, certainly, but no more so than he does when Aiden McGeady is closing in on goal and the nation holds its breath, wondering how McGeady’s going to screw it up this time.

But behind the bonhomie there’s an astute and very cultured mind who knows what good music is and who can teach you so that you know too. You couldn’t imagine Clive Tyldesley speaking ex tempore on Wagner and the Tristan Chord, for instance.

The ability to teach is the single-most important asset a presenter on Lyric should have. Classical music is not like pop music, no matter how much people may try to pretend it is.

To get it, unless you’re blessed with an innate musical sense, you’re going to have to do your homework and be told what to listen for. Or else have a presenter whose love for the music is so overpowering that he or she can’t help but sweep you away.

Marty Whelan, for all his gifts, just can’t do it. He’s still a wonderful radio presence – An Spailpín has watched his breakfast milk curdle while Frank McNamara is speaking – but Marty Whelan’s particular schtick isn’t suited to classical music. It’s just not.

This You Tube pianoman, one of the anonymous specialists that light up that marvelous website, is the sort of guy that should be presenting classical music on the radio. The love comes through all the time. Leave Marty to take over from Derek Mooney or something. Wouldn’t we all be so much better off?