Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Prediction: 2fm will be in an even bigger mess in five years time

You have to really admire the folks at 2fm’s sense of timing. No, really, you have to. Yesterday’s schedule changes and last week’s news that John Clarke is finally quitting come just ahead of the latest JNLR book which will …

Tue, Aug 18, 2009, 09:42


You have to really admire the folks at 2fm’s sense of timing. No, really, you have to. Yesterday’s schedule changes and last week’s news that John Clarke is finally quitting come just ahead of the latest JNLR book which will probably reveal even more slippage in their audience numbers. Of course, 2fm now have valid excuses to bat this audience drop away with the line that they’ve had a review, have begun a process and are now chasing a whole new audience.

That line, though, is a load of stinking horse manure.

2fm’s decline didn’t begin over the last couple of years. As someone who has written again and again about this, I can tell you that this is a malaise which had set in by 2001. Back then, the station was content to point to great JNLR figures and high advertising revenue to offset the fact that it’s daytime offerings were poor and that the tide was out. Sure, they’d a host of young guns around the place – 2fm had their summer of love a few decades late to provide berths for John Power, Mr Spring, Mark McCabe and Wes “R&B” D’Arcy – but all of these new talents were stuck with graveyard shifts. No chance of a daytime run for any of those boyos when you could have Gerry Ryan and Gareth O’Callaghan comingatcha.

This, sadly, has continued to be the case. In 2003, for example, station boss John Clarke went on an indie rock-jock shopping spree and came back from the shops with a pint of milk, a loaf of bread, Dan Hegarty, Jenny Huston and Cormac Battle. All three indie DJs are still with the station, but all three had about as much chance of getting a weekday prime slot from Clarke as I have of togging out for Tipp on September 6.

Then, there’s the indigestion at breakfast time. For the last decade or so, 2fm’s main rivals Today FM have had one man at the helm. Ian Dempsey is the king of bright, breezy, on-the-button breakfast radio because he’s damn good at his gig. During this time, 2fm have tried out (deep breath) Ryan Tubridy, Rick & Ruth, Marty “Bell Eleven” Whelan and, finally, Colm Hayes and Jim-Jim Nugent in an attempt to compete with Iano. See what I mean? That’s four very different combos in the space of a decade. 2fm at breakfast has long been a case of trying something out for size, not giving the presenters time to bed down or develop and then running scared to the next possible solution. In the end, they settled the problem by buying in the FM104 breakfast team. Remember that the saying in radio is “win breakfast and win the day”. When your breakfast show is not bringing in the numbers, you’re already at a disadvantage.

All of the above and much more has contributed to a decade-long identity crisis at 2fm. But the biggest problem of all now is that the proposed changes – and new boss – will probably not be enough to save the station.

For the record, the station is now planning to go after a different audience. Finally admitting that they can’t compete for listeners with the Spins, Reds, Beats and Is of the land, they’re abandoning the teenage demographic and are now chasing the 25-44 age group. That, dear readers, is you, you, you in the Smiths t-shirt, you with the fake tan from the weekend, you, you with the glasses, you, you reading the Metro and you over there trying to grab 40 winks. You, dear OTR readers, are the new 2fm target audience. Yeah, I can hear you laughing. Would you listen to 2fm? Thought not.

Repositioning a station takes more than issuing a press release at the height of the silly season about that plan. Repositioning a failing station takes brains and balls, commodities which have been in short supply at 2fm for the last decade. Repositioning a dull, dying station which has been rudderless and leader-less for years takes more than deciding on the back of some “review” to try to have a bit of that Today FM appeal. And, unfortunately, repositioning an anachronism like 2fm will take more than the spin RTE can throw at it. Here are three problems which come to mind straight away.

Problem number one: the new John Clarke will be recruited from within. This, per this morning’s news report, is down to the broadcaster’s financial position. Of course, there are people in Montrose who would be brilliant at this gig. There are probably even people in Montrose who would wield the knife and get rid of the elephants in the room who need to be removed. But if 2fm is serious about changing its clothes, it needs a whole new energy and that can only come from outside the institution. It can’t be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Problem number two: here’s your schedule, new boss, work with it. A part of me died a little when I saw Dave Fanning back on the 2fm cards with an one hour chat show . It didn’t work on RTE Radio One as Drivetime With Dave so it sure as hell won’t work on 2fm. Fanning has fantastic strengths as a broadcaster, but he needs a really strong, focused team around him to him on track. For instance, he sat in for Ryan Tubridy over the summer and that show was as tight as a drum because the Tubridy Show team were on hand to stop any meandering by the host in the bud. Will Fanning on 2fm have a team who are prepared to do that, especially at a time when Paul McLoone is hoovering up listeners over on 100 to 102 FM because he’s just playing fantastic music? Do we really want to listen to a chat show at the end of the day? And what’s wrong with making Fanning do what Fanning used to be good at and playing some damn music?

Problem number three: is there anyone actually listening? As several commentators here over the last few days have pointed out, radio audiences are dwindling. People are not going to tune into the wireless when they can go to Last FM or Spofity and hear exactly what they want to hear when they want to hear it. Every radio station is suffering from this at the moment and no amount of tinkering with playlists or formats is going to change that. If you don’t already have an audience who’ve grown up with you and your presenters, it’s going to be even harder to persuade them to switch over. With 2fm now accepting that The Kids don’t want them, how the hell do you expect the generation you’ve already abandoned because you wanted to chase The Kids to come round to you again?

It’s a long bloody list and one which will provide plenty of sleepless nights for Michael Cahill (the obvious new John Clarke) or Mark McCabe (a potentially interesting new John Clarke) or Ian Wilson (the really smart, dangerous, unpredictable and sadly unlikely new John Clarke) or John McMahon (an interesting bet for the new John Clarke job who would be thankfully anything but the new John Clarke) when they take possession of the keys to the executive washroom. If 2fm is still around in its current guise and is holding its own in five years time, hats off to the new man or woman. If it’s not and if it’s still the subject of pieces like this, please remember that the rot set in a long, long time ago and on another Head Of 2fm’s watch.