2fm needs more than an encore from RTÉ orchestra and DJ

Pressure on station rises as figures show it desperately needs to recruit younger listeners

At the tail end of the summer, RTÉ scored a hit it is now fond of recalling – both on-air and at a corporate level.

It involved a tent, but no baking. No children performed, though Children by Robert Miles was performed.

On the Friday night of Electric Picnic, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra played a one-hour set of 1990s dance bangers, with DJ and 2fm presenter Jenny Greene on the decks.

The 9,000-capacity tent overflowed. Arms were aloft. It was hailed as one of the highlights of this year's festival by Jim Carroll of The Irish Times – and by Dee Forbes, director-general of RTÉ.


Asked how RTÉ could stay relevant to younger audiences, Forbes championed the Picnic set as “a really fantastic way of bringing classical music to a whole new audience” and an example of how RTÉ is “doing things a little differently” in fulfilment of its public service remit.

The YouTube-friendly trick is duly being repeated at the 3Arena in Dublin on November 13th and is also on the bill at 2fm’s sold-out Christmas charity ball.

Elsewhere on RTÉ radio, it has been effusively dubbed “the new Riverdance”.

This is not about the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, which has long been accessible, educative and diverse – that is its mission. For professional musicians, orchestral arrangements of euphoric club tracks can hardly be any great mystery. Nobody serious is questioning the existence of RTÉ’s orchestras.

2fm, however, is different.

Its branding is all over these, and a rake of other gigs, for a reason.

It needs to recruit more younger listeners and it can’t simply wait for them to press the correct orange button on the app, or to discover the station through social media.

It has to get out there and create proper noise if it is going to justify its future.

As last week's radio ratings survey, and a string of previous surveys, suggest – this is not an easy task for the head of 2fm, Dan Healy.

Market share slip

The Joint National Listenership Research figures compiled on behalf of the industry may not be perfect, but they do tell a story, and the story for 2fm has not been kind.

What should be its key cornerstones, Breakfast Republic and The Nicky Byrne Show with Jenny Greene, have haemorrhaged listeners, and they're not alone.

Overall, the station has lost 59,000 listeners or 15 per cent of its daily reach over the past 12 months.

In that time, it has seen its market share slip further, to 5.8 per cent. The battle to turn it around continues.

Healy, admitting last week that he was “disappointed” but adding it was “not a day for panic”, had thought the survey would be a positive one for 2fm, one that would show the most recent iteration of its schedule was gaining traction.

It didn’t happen.

Now he believes it is a question of having to "just hold the nerve" and keep doing what it is doing to reposition 2fm, likening it to a Moneyball situation in which "we keep losing games, but we know we are going to come good".

Schedule changes have triggered the departure of older listeners, but 2fm’s longer-term problem is more fundamental: it hasn’t got enough listeners among its 15-34-year-old target audience.

Not only is its market share of this demographic still rather slight at 10.6 per cent, but the market itself is declining.

This age group has other things to do besides listening to radio, or even listening to music.


YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music are not the radio sector's only competitors.

As controller of BBC Radio 1, Ben Cooper does a not dissimilar job to Healy. Last month, he listed Pokémon Go and Minecraft among his chief rivals.

Both BBC Radio 1 and RTÉ 2fm are criticised by commercial radio groups for getting in their way and, in 2fm’s case, the clamour feels relatively greater because it is active in the advertising market, taking a slice that’s large enough to annoy competitors but not enough to make it profitable.

The defence has to be that 2fm offers something distinctive that the non-RTÉ operators don’t, or rather can’t and wouldn’t if 2fm did not exist.

This is why the hastily arranged collaboration between Greene and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is now serving multiple functions for RTÉ – helping 2fm reach younger listeners (if not quite the kids playing Minecraft), giving it something to shout about in the meantime, and backing up RTÉ’s broader narrative that Montrose is a “cultural beacon” that requires guarantees on public funding.

Despite RTÉ’s spiralling deficit, Forbes has implied she does not want to sever any of RTÉ’s limbs and, indeed, to give up on younger audiences would be tantamount to giving up completely.

But there is now pressure on 2fm from all sides.

Jenny Greene and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra can only take so much of the load.