2FM: A frenetic world of squawky voices and auto-tuned pop

The home of Nicky Byrne, Jenny Greene and Eoghan McDermott has some unlikely fans

The Nicky Byrne Show with Jenny Greene depends on a nicely balanced chemistry

The Nicky Byrne Show with Jenny Greene depends on a nicely balanced chemistry

 

As an experimental composer dubbed “the godfather of Irish electronica”, it’s unsurprising that Roger Doyle has been influenced by many avant-garde sources throughout his career. Sure enough, when he appears on Mystery Train with John Kelly (Lyric FM, Sunday-Thursday) to talk about his life, Doyle cites the importance of bold innovators such as Igor Stravinsky, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. But it’s at the end of his conversation with Kelly that Doyle really pushes the envelope, invoking a source of inspiration that remains taboo in even the most way-out circles.

“I do check out 2FM,” Doyle says, adding, “I don’t bemoan the deterioration of pop culture.” Lyric’s output may be less stuffily middlebrow these days thanks to the open-minded approach of Kelly and others, but breezily lauding the unabashedly poppy 2FM on its classical sister station seems like an outrage on a par with Oedipal-level profanity. Hosting his regular Sunday night profile interview, Kelly provides the perfect foil for Doyle’s broad spectrum of music, but the composer’s taste for smart pop – in this case, Australian singer Sia – surely proves he is open to anything.

Tuning into 2FM only increases one’s admiration of Doyle’s attitude, not to say fortitude. In its quest to attract the coveted but elusive demographic of younger listeners, the station has fine-tuned its approach to screen out anyone over 30 and/or possessed of a delicate disposition. A cursory scan reveals a frenetically paced world of squawky voices and hyperactive conversation, where celebrity gossip is the lingua franca, names such as Roz Purcell and Vogue Williams are invoked as cultural touchstones and auto-tuned, slickly-produced pop provides the relentless soundtrack. In short, the experience makes avant-garde compositions of even the most discordantly experimental stripe sound as reassuringly safe as a Neil Diamond record.

On-air chemistry

But once the initial shock of immersion in this icily bracing radio environment has passed, differences in tone and emphasis begin to emerge across the various programmes. Despite the unequal billing in its name, The Nicky Byrne Show with Jenny Greene (2FM, weekdays) depends on a nicely balanced chemistry between the two hosts for its appeal. As the erstwhile member of boyband Westlife, Byrne may have the bigger star profile but he sounds happy to have his co-presenter back from holiday on Monday morning. Less predictably, Greene sounds delighted to her return to work, thanks to a disappointing break in Italy.

Every cloud has a silver lining, however. Greene’s unsatisfactory holiday becomes the show’s main topic for the day, as the presenter recounts a litany of airline mix-ups, abortive boat trips and stagnant jacuzzis. First-world problems all, but such low-level misery is grist to the mill for Byrne, who sounds gleeful at the banter opportunities this offers. When Greene remarks that she also had “a laugh” while away, Byrne strives to keep her on-message: “We want to focus on the bad points.” Listeners are then invited to share their own holiday horror stories, providing more valuable subject matter.

Depending on one’s point of view, that so much airtime can be taken up with such flimsy material is either a tribute to or indictment of Byrne and Greene’s partnership. Either way, it captures the essence of the show, where what is being discussed matters less than the manner in which the presenters talk about it. Amid the good-natured jibes and regular references to Byrne’s pop star past, an air of casual irreverence prevails, which extends into items such as the discussion on student life with fellow 2FM presenter Ciara King.

There are some red lines, however. In particular, playing music recorded in the dark ages before the 1990s is a cardinal sin. When Byrne plays a snippet of Starship’s 1985 cod-rock hit We Built This City, Greene laughs along but insists that it’s “not allowed”, like a rebellious delinquent suddenly realising things have gone too far.

Weightier matter

Compared with the light-hearted antics of Byrne and Greene, The Eoghan McDermott Show (2FM, weekdays) has the host positioning himself as the station’s resident intellectual. In fairness, the bar for this post isn’t set very high, but McDermott does regularly tackle uncomfortable real-world issues in a way that is unexpected on a fizzy music station. On Tuesday, he talks to writer and campaigner Orla Tinsley about her double lung transplant and her life with cystic fibrosis, sounding genuinely moved by her ordeal as well as her strength of character.

The following day he talks to club DJ and Syrian aid charity founder Calvin James about his time caring for casualties in the country’s brutal civil war. It’s an often harrowing conversation, but the presenter can’t decide whether to concentrate on the horrors of the Syrian situation or the emotional impact it had on his guest. There’s also something disconcerting about McDermott pausing the interview to introduce a song by Beyoncé. The assumption that a (presumably) youthful audience can’t sit through a serious item is both patronising and depressing.

But McDermott frequently bridges the gap between buzzy fun and more serious issues with aplomb. He is at home discussing American politics with regular contributor Mark Joseph Stern, happily chats as Gaeilge with secondary school pupils in Gort and mischievously coaxes (terrible) attempts at an Irish accent from Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett and Jack Black. It’s lively, arresting and, crucially, not at all boring. At times like this, you don’t have to be an avant-garde artist to enjoy 2FM.

Radio Moment of the Week: Communication breakdown

As Storm Ali wreaks havoc and tragedy across the country, it causes more prosaic headaches for RTÉ presenters covering it. On Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) the host struggles to hear Met Éireann weatherman Gerry Murphy over a wind-disrupted mobile line, getting more frustrated with each effort. Later, after the storm causes a temporary interruption to the network’s transmissions in Dublin, Áine Lawlor welcomes back listeners to News at One (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). The notion that people are waiting in silence for resumption of service raises a new twist to the old philosophical conundrum: if a presenter talks to an audience and no one is around, does she make a sound?

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