If Irish radio had a good pandemic as a rule, 2FM is the most obvious exception. Although its weekday shows clawed back listeners in the latest Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) survey, the RTÉ station is still suffering the effects of a bad pandemic, when, in the words of its boss, Dan Healy, it "took a thump".
With its market share of 5.7 per cent for May-December 2021 still down on its pre-pandemic – and even then rather perilous – share of 6.4 per cent, 2FM looks far from the “monster station” that Johnny Smacks and Johnny B, aka the 2 Johnnies, dubbed it when they were revealed as the new presenters of the 3pm-6pm slot.
Jenny Greene, who is moving to 10pm show The Greene Room, had actually recovered almost all of her pre-pandemic listeners (129,000 compared to 130,000 two years ago), but 2FM believes the "double-header" vibe of the popular podcast duo marks an opportunity to roll the dice again. From February 21st, it will broadcast "banging tunes, good craic and great new segments" live from the 2 Johnnies' own studio in Cahir, Co Tipperary.
To announce this change, the station took its current most valuable player, Jennifer Zamparelli (141,000 listeners from 9am to 12pm), on the road to Cahir, prompting local excitement. "People just wanted to come up and hug Jen," marvelled Healy.
The 2FM head’s ambition now is to “create a second breakfast show, essentially, at drivetime”. This raises the prospect that drivetime could wind up serving as the 2 Johnnies’ audition for an eventual switch to mornings.
For his part, Healy praised the hard work of the team behind 2FM’s actual breakfast show – 2FM Breakfast with Doireann, Donncha and Carl – and said he had made the mistake of waiting a few months to launch their show after “what happened in February” (meaning the abrupt departure last year of Doireann Garrihy’s erstwhile breakfast co-presenter Eoghan McDermott).
But the new trio, on air since the end of May 2021, certainly face a steep challenge: their listenership of 111,000, while up from 103,000 in the last JNLR survey, is a low base from which to rebuild.
Under fire on everything from its handling of weekend presenter Louise McSharry’s exit to wider frustration about Irish radio’s perceived lack of support for Irish artists – a narrative Healy rejects – 2FM is keen to use 2022 to re-establish links to live music and generally get out and about.
Indeed, with a market share of just 3.5 per cent in the capital, where it is tied with Classic Hits Radio, Dublin is its weakest spot anyway.