Any curious souls seeking to experience the revamped 2FM Breakfast show (weekdays) to maximum effect are advised to tune into Morning Ireland before changing over. Switching from RTÉ Radio 1's reassuringly formatted flagship to its sister station's made-over morning show is akin to moving from a monochrome Pathé newsreel to a Day-Glo TikTok video, all punchy delivery and pulsating techno backdrop. And that's just the half-hourly news bulletin.
When it comes to making themselves heard, it's hard to fault the presenters of 2FM Breakfast, who are the incumbent host, Doireann Garrihy, plus two new arrivals, Donncha O'Callaghan and Carl Mullan: their vivacity and volume are matched only by the ephemerality of their material. Quirky quizzes and zany segments abound, as does the dread phrase "having the craic". The frenetic template is a shift from the breakfast show's previous iteration, a less maniacally paced affair helmed by Garrihy and her erstwhile copresenter Eoghan McDermott, before his departure from 2FM earlier this year.
Donncha O'Callaghan has already established himself as the breakfast show's affable lunk. When a Scottish-accented caller says his job is directing cranes, the presenter mishears this as trains, laughing at the idea
The new hosts exude an admirable energy for people with a 6am start. “We’re morning people,” explains O’Callaghan, the former Ireland rugby international, whose carefully enunciated diction suggests he’s there for sports-celebrity cachet rather than slick patter.
Certainly, he’s already established himself as the group’s affable lunk. When a Scottish-accented caller says his job is directing cranes, the presenter mishears this as trains, laughing at the idea. Later, as Garrihy talks about bumping into the Lyric FM presenter Marty Whelan (“the king himself”), O’Callaghan thinks they’re talking about the sports reporter Marty Morrissey. But this gormlessness has an oddly endearing quality, while he’s much more fluent when talking about rugby, which is quite a bit.
Mullan’s main job is to provide mirth, though the results are mixed: if an impression of an auld biddy giving out is your idea of hilarity, then you’ll enjoy his “It’s a disgrace” slot. (“It’s a handy way to complain,” Mullan concedes.) Otherwise, he acts as sidekick to the others, either slagging them off or egging them on.
It’s Garrihy who brings the show together. Sometimes she does little more than make cheeky remarks while laughing even louder than her companions – no mean feat – but she has an undeniable on-air presence, thanks to her infectiously goofy irreverence. Crucially, though she swaps jibes with her cohosts, Garrihy’s default setting is one of good-natured divilment, as opposed to the snarky sniping of other morning jocks. (See last week’s apology from the Dublin station FM104 after the former 2FM presenter Jim-Jim Nugent and his cohost, Mark “Nobby” Noble, mocked the voice of a young boy with additional needs on their Strawberry Alarm Clock show. Classy.)
Despite the presenters' exuberance, 2FM Breakfast has a discouragingly generic feel, though there's still time for improvement. Otherwise, a rude awakening may be in store
It’s just a shame that Garrihy and her “lads” don’t have stronger material. The phone-in contests have a back-of-the-envelope quality to them, even by radio-quiz standards: Diddly-Idle, predictably enough, involves pop songs being sung in an exaggerated folk-ballad style. Meanwhile, the Big Up Your Small Talk slot has the trio shooting the breeze on random topics: in other words, actual small talk. Instead of cackling and joshing, the presenters might work with their production team on items better suited to their talents.
This may seem a bit harsh. After all, it’s a light-hearted, music-heavy breakfast show on a pop station: the hosts are still finding their feet, for sure, but do a pretty decent job of providing a jolly jump-start to the day for their audience.
But it’s dispiriting that the State’s public broadcaster, in the shape of 2FM, merrily replicates fare pumped out by commercial music stations across the country, while other radio branches at the network are due for the chop (RTÉ Gold, whose oldies remit is admittedly filled by rival channels) or have been recently threatened with it (Lyric FM, which has no equivalent elsewhere). Despite the presenters’ exuberance, 2FM Breakfast has a discouragingly generic feel, though there’s still time for improvement. Otherwise, a rude awakening may be in store.
Today FM, meanwhile, sees a change to its nocturnal line-up, with the station stalwart Paul McLoone leaving his late-night alternative-rock show to be replaced by Ed Smith, who in turn moves from his 7pm slot to make room for Pamela Joyce.
If the sparky Joyce is the winner in this shake-up, McLoone’s departure is a loss, particularly for fans of indie music with a punky edge. (McLoone moonlights as the singer with the Derry pop-punk legends The Undertones.) It’s too early for Smith to put his own stamp on the slot, though his presenting style is more conventionally mainstream – cornier yet more poised – than that of his droll predecessor.
Matt Cooper appears ever more an anomaly at Today FM, with the talk-radio format of The Last Word at odds with the untaxing music'n'chats surrounding it
It suggests an ambivalent change of direction at Today FM under its new owners, Bauer Media. The elevation of Joyce refreshes the station’s blokey evening schedule, but while McLoone’s music wasn’t conspicuously obscure, his exit suggests a nudge towards stylistic homogeneity. Smith may have other ideas, of course.
Either way, Matt Cooper appears ever more an anomaly, with the talk-radio format of The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays) at odds with the untaxing music'n'chats surrounding it. Not that Cooper gives any impression of panicking. If anything he sticks even more closely to his balanced, inquisitive approach. His discussion about the impact of the pandemic unemployment payment on the ability of small businesses to attract staff is lively yet detailed: the People Before Profit TD Mick Barry and Neil McDonnell of the Irish SME Association unsurprisingly hold divergent views, but their well-mannered debate illuminates the different pressures around the issue.
Elsewhere, Cooper takes on the role of roving reporter, talking to protesters from Co Donegal demanding full redress for damage caused to their homes by mica. His conversation with one demonstrator, Paul, highlights the impossible situation faced by many homeowners. Not only has Paul’s house to be demolished, but he is only able to rebuild on a flood plain.
“It’s traumatic” is his verdict. Yet he’s in surprisingly good spirits, boosted by the turnout. “No one in Donegal wanted to talk about mica,” he tells Cooper, “but this has given people a chance to say, I’m not alone.”
Despite the grim reasons for the protest, Cooper provides an encouraging snapshot of people-power in action. Feel-good radio doesn’t have to be silly.
Moment of the Week: Joyce on trial
Marking Bloomsday judiciously, Drama on One: The United States versus Ulysses (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday) re-creates the obscenity trial surrounding the American publication of Joyce's modernist classic. Colin Murphy's drama reimagines the courtroom case in the style of a 1930s radio programme while lacing the narrative with Joycean references, with a cast that includes Killian Scott as both prosecuting attorney and defending publisher.
Under director Conall Morrison, the wisecracking dialogue and zippy performances evoke Damon Runyon as much as Joyce, but the production has a playfulness and invention that do the Irish master proud. Moreover, the listener needn’t dress up and eat kidneys to enjoy the action.