There are times on the radio when a solo voice just doesn't cut it. Listening to presenters in the early-morning slots, you get a sense of distressed souls babbling into the void while doing their utmost to muzzle their feelings of isolation. "Help! Is there anyone out there?" they seem to cry out as, locked in their soundproofed prisons, they read out the 158th text from a truck driver from Rhyl.
Two voices can be magic, though. I was reminded of this while listening to Chrissie Hynde and John McEnroe amiably needling each other on 6Music this week. This was Hynde's show in title – she was sitting in for Iggy Pop – but bringing in McEnroe as a foil was a genius move.
The tennis star's irascible manner has long passed into cliché, though in the presence of Hynde, the great Pretender and his long-time friend, he was a spaniel begging to have its tummy tickled. She was in no tickling mood, however. To be honest, I doubt she ever is. I interviewed her once and she's fantastically no-nonsense. One daft comment in her presence and you're forever branded a moron.
Sometimes, though, being the moron in the equation is OK, and it was a role McEnroe had long made peace with. Over the course of two hours, Hynde was fully in charge, directing the conversation, shutting down McEnroe's attempts to talk tennis (she doesn't do sport) and correcting his occasionally dubious musical knowledge.
"So don't you think The Smiths would have been even bigger, had Morrissey stayed in the band?" he asked at one point. "I don't think he left. I think they split up," replied Hynde dryly. I'm pretty sure I could hear her eyes rolling. Later he told a story about meeting Lou Reed for the first time, to which she responded: "He's a little more intellectual than you, isn't he?" "Well he made me seem like a nice guy," McEnroe replied, immune to her barbs.
Hynde wasn't keen on her friend's musical choices either, and it was true that a lot of them sucked. "You keep playing these bands that change tempos and have this stadium rock thing going on and I don't know how that translates," she complained. After he declared his love for Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of" there was a pained silence before Hynde murmured: "that's a little too adolescent for me."
Hynde's taste in music was pretty much flawless, of course, moving from The Velvet Underground's "Foggy Notion" to The Shangri-Las' "I Can Never Go Home." McEnroe loved the former but couldn't get with the latter, and it was these vast musical differences, plus the comfortable bickering that comes from decades of friendship, which made their show a delight.
6Music's Radcliffe and Maconie are old pros when it comes to the radio double act. They frequently do their own thing (joined-at-the-hip Ant and Dec types they are not), though I'm hoping it's now etched into a broadcasting by-law that they must always have a show together.
Monday's programme found them reflecting on meeting Diana Ross in a Portakabin, alternative ways of keeping one's underpants up and the notion of Bob Dylan in a sailor suit. Wordplay, random facts (musical or otherwise) and a faint sense of bewilderment at the world are what bind these two. Their particular chemistry is in not having an act at all but being just two genial music lovers who are as accustomed to each other's company as a pair of Toby jugs on a pub shelf.