Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

How’s 2fm getting on?

A short while after the “shake up” how are the new shows doing?

Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 10:17


RTE 2fm had one of its biggest re-jigs of late. Anyone even vaguely observing the radio landscape in Ireland knows how unsteady the station has been over the last few years. It abandoned its youth audience. It imported presenters from other non-RTE stations passed their prime. Its music choices are poor. Its schedule has been switched and swapped more times then the Sugababes. Of course, all of these things are easy to slag, but personally, I want 2fm to succeed, and why would anyone want anything but?

Its new morning show, Breakfast Republic, is better than the Idiocracy output of some of the Dublin stations. I just have to ignore the inane almost all-male output of FM104. In terms of “chat” 104 and 98fm seem to have returned to the debased formula of generating stupid controversy and chatter about criminal behaviour on both the Chris Barry phone show and the Adrian Kennedy phone show. 98 follows a similarly embarrassingly testosterone-laden schedule with blokes such as Ray Foley and Dermot & Dave as cornerstones. I’m sure loads of people love listening to these shows, but I can’t deal with the towel-snapping. Meanwhile, Spin wipes the floor with every station in terms of its pop music playlist, satisfying appetites for new tunes, and its talk show, The Spin, manages to be a programme about relevant topics that doesn’t need to be Jeremy Kyle to be entertaining.

The problem Breakfast Republic faces is complex. It’s about the flow. Perhaps it is unfair to judge something so early on, but I kind of feel that you simply cannot create a great radio show by lobbing three people into a studio and hoping magic appears. Jennifer Maguire is a fantastic television broadcaster, as is Bernard O’Shea. Republic Of Telly is consistently one of the best things RTE has put out in years. Keith Walsh has certainly done his 10,000 hours too.

But right now the flow on Breakfast Republic is forced, staccato, the presenters trip over each other and repeat phrases. It feels like they’re underrehearsed. Multi-presenter programmes are meant to feel spontaneous, but that feel comes from preparation and chemistry. The gags have a tendency to flop. It feels like a demo. That’s grand when you’re just a few kids starting out on a local station and given a few years (or six months if you’re exceptionally talented) your craft will be honed, and if you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll have found a co-presenter whom you can bounce stuff off and develop a rapport with. That’s priceless. It’s not Breakfast Republic’s fault that they weren’t ready. I’m sure the show will get better, but it’s very hard to rehearse when you’re right in the spotlight. Plenty of their immature asides and silly singing and remarks could actually work if they did have flow, but as it stands, it’s an uncomfortable and tense experience for the listener, like when you’re watching an X Factor contestant who you know is going to drop a note.

If Breakfast Republic was on a college or community radio station, you’d think “wow, they’re good! Rising talent! They’ll get snapped up!” But plonking a show that is so obviously embryonic in such a prestigious slot – and without the finesse that requires – is slightly worrying. The expectation of the national broadcaster is that when you tune in, you’re listening to the best that we’ve got. Breakfast Republic will get better. It’s important for radio presenters to slog away and improve day on day, and that obviously also involves a grace period, which is why some of my criticisms are maybe a bit unfair and premature. But the problem is, 2fm can’t really afford to nurture something while it’s centre stage. New shows need to hit the ground running, not trip on the starting line. I really hope it comes into its own, but to be honest, I won’t be listening until and unless that happens.

You can learn a lot from listening to well-produced shows. There are several reasons one of the best shows on radio is Ray D’Arcy’s. Now, the D’Arcy show wasn’t the best thing ever the day it went on air, but it’s one of the best flowing shows around. I can only imagine the amount of work that goes into making something sound that good, that zippy, that natural. It mightn’t be to your taste – and I’m pretty sure that it’s not even aimed at me – but it’s a masterclass in production. Same goes for the Off The Ball show that morphed into Second Captains (not the current Newstalk incarnation) – the production was just beautiful. I said it a million times, but you didn’t need to know anything about sport to enjoy that version of Off The Ball. Yes, you were listening to people having fun and bantering away, but like their podcast, it was also intelligent, tight, and like most great radio shows encapsulated that swan metaphor – all grace on top and frantic work beneath the surface. Those two shows have three ‘Ps’ in common; preparation, production, practice. It can often take years for a show to hit its optimum form, and they need kickass teams on the other side of the glass too.

Then there’s this:

The Nicky Byrne show is fine (why name Jenny Greene standing next to him, eh 2fm? I mean how insulting is that!) I don’t really have anything more to say about the content other than “fine”. But perhaps more interestingly, Byrne is giving high profile presenters everywhere a lesson in how not to interact with “listeners”. Byrne is spending at least a fraction of his time on Twitter replying to people who think the show is dodgy. And that’s a fraction too much. “Nicky Byrne has his own show on 2fm. He is USELESS. Indicative of the ‘get famous names with f**k all radio talent’ trend.” said one guy called Kev with less than 300 followers. “Bad day Kev?” Byrne replied. Cringe. A radio show from Pittsburgh which has a handle that could be mistaken for Byrne’s show tweeted a clarification that they are not the Nicky Byrne Show and in fact aren’t even sure who he is. “Who are you?” tweeted Byrne. Getting snarky with randomers on Twitter is embarrassing and unnecessary. Byrne by all accounts is a lovely chap, but one would have thought the critical derision the massively successful Westlife received by people who were never going to buy their records anyway would have meant he had thicker skin than exhibited online. Quit with the pettiness.

Louise McSharry has been elevated from weekends to an evening slot, and it’s working. McSharry is a relaxed, smart presenter who has that remarkable ability to create liveliness without a co-presenter. On top of that, she brings something to 2fm that has been missing – a great contemporary taste in decent music across genres. Hopefully the show will be given more production bells and whistles to turn it into something bigger and better, but right now she’s settling in very, very well.

Then there’s something completely unexpected. Bottom of the Barrel brought me back to some of my favourite radio shows, shows where you felt there was a real connection between both the people in studio and the presenters with their audience; Sara Cox on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, Rick O’Shea on FM104 and his freewheeling evening show on 2fm, Joe and Keith’s Breakfast Xpress at the dawn of Spin103.8. The absence of these kind of programmes on so-called “youth” radio has meant in recent years or so, I’ve moved almost completely away from “magazine-y” shows over to RTE Radio 1 for Morning Ireland, Drivetime, the Business Show, Miriam Meets and Marian, Today FM for D’Arcy and The Last Word, and Newstalk for Moncrieff, BBC 6 Music, NPR for All Songs Considered, Radio 5 Live for Kermode and Mayo, and naturally, This American Life.

But Bottom of the Barrel, combined with McSharry’s show, is making me listen to 2fm again. McSharry recommended Bottom of the Barrel to me, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have tuned in otherwise. I had no idea who the presenters were or what the tone was going to be. It’s presented by Chris Greene and Ciara King, who worked alongside each other at iRadio for the past five years, and it’s brilliant. The other evening, I sat on my couch for over two hours just listening to their show – doing nothing else but listening to the radio. When was the last time you did that? Their chemistry is fantastic, their references and asides are brilliant, their indignant outsiderness is hilarious. It’s irreverent and relevant. I laughed and laughed. This is a real gem. And if I was someone making decisions in Today FM or 104 or Spin, I’d be angling to poach it.

I’ve had two major criticisms of 2fm in recent years. The first is how lame its playlist generally is. The second is its apparent inability to nurture new talent. With McSharry’s show and Bottom of the Barrel, 2fm is remedying those two issues. Shouldn’t it be a lesson then, that the risks the station took with placing those two shows in the evening have paid off, while the supposedly safe decisions are struggling?