How do you replace the irreplaceable?


It won’t be easy replacing Gerry Ryan on 2fm but it boils down to signing up a big name or opting for a relative unknown, writes RONAN McGREEVY

THE OUTPOURING of grief at the untimely death of Gerry Ryan has illustrated in a very public way the task now facing RTÉ. It is apparent, even to his erstwhile detractors, that Ryan had a unique bond with his audience. Replacing the irreplaceable is the task now facing 2fm’s new head John McMahon.

McMahon has big plans to reposition 2fm away from its fruitless chase of the “yoof” market of those aged between 15 and 34 and towards an audience of 20 to 44, who are older but still feel young.

During the boom years there was speculation that Ryan would move to Newstalk to anchor its afternoon schedule, but in 2007 he decided to stay with RTÉ albeit on an enhanced contract. Though Ryan had a very public stand-off with his RTÉ bosses about having to take a salary cut last year, he eventually succumbed. He was as synonymous with 2fm as it was with him. The issue of him staying with 2fm seemed settled, and he appeared central to the new plans.

Ryan has been the mainstay of 2fm since 1988, producing three hours of radio, day in, day out, a considerable achievement in the notoriously fickle world of broadcasting.

His show had been losing listeners in recent years, but before his death he looked to have turned it around a bit. The last JNLR figures, released in February, saw his listener figures increase by 2,000 to 307,000 after a long period of steady decline.

It still made him by far the station’s biggest draw and the only show on its schedule in the top 20, according to JNLR figures. By contrast, the Colm and Jim Jim Breakfast Showhas about half that audience.

His death also raises financial questions for the station. Advertising on Ryan’s slot carries a 25-30 per cent premium with a rate of €900 for a once-off 30-second slot.

The Gerry Ryan Showwas worth between €4 million and €5 million a year to RTÉ, and Ryan was never afraid to remind top brass in the station of that fact during contract negotiations.

RTÉ’s head of radio Clare Duignan and McMahon will have a stark choice in making the decision. They may decide to go for a like-for-like replacement, a high-profile personality such as Ryan Tubridy, Ian Dempsey, Dave Fanning or Ray D’Arcy. Alternatively, they may decide that Ryan is truly irreplaceable and go for a relative unknown, hoping that time and the RTÉ platform will build a new and reliable audience.

Understandably enough, RTÉ was in a spin after news of Ryan’s death. From Monday RTÉ 2fm presenter Colm Hayes and RTÉ presenter Lucy Kennedy will host The Colm & Lucy Showfrom 9am till noon for the next four weeks.

Replacing Ryan is a decision that cannot, and will not, be made quickly given its importance. Nevertheless, radio audiences are restive. Many listeners may move across to Ray D’Arcy’s popular slot on Today FM or Tom Dunne’s increasingly popular alternative on Newstalk in the hiatus, while the decision is being made.

“There’s no timeframe as of yet. It has not been formally tabled or discussed,” said RTÉ’s head of communications Rory Coveney, “but I’m sure people are starting to think about it. It’s three hours of prime-time radio on one of the biggest radio stations in the country that has been anchored by Gerry Ryan for more than 20 years. It is a huge void to fill.

“There is going to be no rush judgment. That time slot is obviously of critical importance to RTÉ over the coming weeks. It is a very difficult job and one we are going to have to address in due course.”

The most obvious replacement is Tubridy, who cut his teeth at 2fm, but he is unlikely to want the joint burden of a three-hour week-day programme and the Late Late Show. Ray D’Arcy is another obvious replacement, though he might be tempted to build a bigger audience on Today FM, while Ian Dempsey is a solid performer, but lacks Ryan’s edge.

Dave Fanning is another experienced broadcaster but would he have the same empathy with the plain people of Ireland that Ryan seemed to have?

McMahon has said that his ambition is to find the new Gerry Ryan or the new Dave Fanning, something that 2fm has failed to do in the past, and to blood new or emerging talent.

“It would be a brave move, and most people would regard him as an outsider, but I would go for Ray Foley from Today FM,” said Craig Farrell from Starcom, which seeks to place advertisers with their targeted radio audiences.

“He’s a real youth kind of studenty type broadcaster with a very different style to Gerry Ryan. I’ve been saying for years that Gerry Ryan should have moved over to RTÉ Radio 1 many years ago. This could be their opportunity to do something completely different.”