The 2 Johnnies: the blokey swagger is wearing very thin

Radio: The podcasting duo’s irreverent style is wearing thin on 2FM, while Dermot and Dave’s double act becomes a one-man show

For all their image as devil-may-care country lads disrupting the world of daytime radio, there are some boundaries that the 2 Johnnies are reluctant to cross. While introducing their regular “parish quiz” slot on Tuesday’s show (Drive It with the 2 Johnnies, 2FM, weekdays), Johnny “B” O’Brien and Johnny “Smacks” McMahon admit that they know the day’s contestant, from Bansha, Co Tipperary: probably inevitable, given that the duo hail from nearby Cahir. After a few joshing tales about sharing bottles of Buckfast together, their guest wrongly answers the first question, on the price of goujons in the village butcher – knowledge of local flora and fauna counts for little in this contest – and reprimands himself in colourful style.

“Ah, ya f*****g eejit,” he mutters, apparently forgetting his old pals are hosting a programme on national radio. “Easy now,” O’Brien interjects hurriedly, “Keep it together”. The rest of the item goes off without any more profanity, to the presenters’ evident relief. “We do try to curse not too much, but sure look, the odd one slips out,” O’Brien says. After the podcasting pair’s ignominious radio debut last year, when their show was temporarily pulled over sexist comments made on social media, it’s heartening to hear them being more careful on the airwaves, even if some of their contemporaries didn’t get the memo.

But it’s equally telling that the sweary outburst is probably the week’s most notable moment on the drivetime slot. It’s not that the rest of the content is dull: as they trade stories and asides, the two hosts are never less than energetic. Their dedication to addressing the entire nation is admirable too, opening as they do with a daily round of determinedly corny placename puns, from “saying hello to Galileo in Mayo” to “riding shotgun in Portarlington”.

That’s as inventive as things get, however. For all the on-air verve – hardly a moment passes without them falling into paroxysms of laughter – a samey feel descends on proceedings after a while. Pick a theme (teachers, christenings, overpriced food) swap a few wacky personal experiences (being retrieved by mothers from discos in Nenagh), invite listeners to do same, repeat as necessary. With such a formula, much of the appeal depends on McMahon and O’Brien’s gleefully non-metropolitan argot: on Wednesday, they riff about compiling a “culchie dictionary”, but in truth that’s what they’re doing most days.

But after a while the patter wears a bit thin. And there’s a lot of patter. For all the diverting chuckles provided by slots such as “Trad’s What I Call Music”, in which pop tunes are rendered on tin whistle, McMahon and O’Brien spend an inordinate amount of airtime talking among themselves, to the point that one sometimes wonders if they too have forgotten they’re presenting a show on national radio. At one point, they joke about their station boss telling too many anecdotes, which gets full marks for cheeky insubordination, but suggests that self-awareness isn’t their strong suit.

Stationmate Tracy Clifford is a less ostentatious presence – chats, music, the odd giggle – but is more engaging over the course of a programme

In fairness station colleagues Emma Power and Aifric O’Connell take turns joining them in studio, presumably to add some variety. But such is the bromance between Messrs B and Smacks that any outsider ends up as a wallflower; even, on occasion, the listener. None of this, of course, is especially objectionable or unusual in the world of commercial music radio, where subtlety is rarely a virtue. The pair’s broad humour and blokey swagger duly grab the attention, as well as providing a welcome change from the generic jock intonation of many DJs.

But given that the 2 Johnnies arrived at 2FM with the aura of swashbuckling digital rebels, buoyed by a massive online following, their show is deflatingly conventional. In the preceding early afternoon slot, stationmate Tracy Clifford (2FM, weekdays) is a less ostentatious presence – chats, music, the odd giggle – but is more engaging over the course of a programme. It’s possible that while McMahon and O’Brien make for irreverently entertaining company on stage, on podcasts or when travelling around America with camera crew in tow, their talents don’t translate as easily to three hours of daily radio. The 2 Johnnies may need to reconsider their approach if, to coin a phrase, they’re to continue ploughing their furrows in Montrose.

There are plenty of double acts for them to draw encouragement from, not least Dermot and Dave (Today FM, weekdays). Dermot Whelan and Dave Moore’s mix of gentle ribbing, absurd humour and offbeat items has gelled over the years to earn them the biggest audience on Irish commercial radio. Crucial to this success is the chemistry between the two presenters. This is highlighted by its absence on the week’s shows, which could simply be entitled Dermot, as Moore is on holiday.

With his co-host away, Whelan draws attention to the fact that he has a Wikipedia page while Moore doesn’t. “Dave pretends those things don’t bother him, but oh, they bother him,” he says, with theatrical relish. His triumph is short-lived, however, as producer Seán Reidy reads Whelan’s own entry, which clearly hasn’t been updated in some years. “Someone did their homework - a decade ago,” the presenter drily remarks.

A raucous atmosphere prevails despite Moore being absent: Whelan may theoretically be piloting solo, but with Reidy and regular contributor Cathal Minogue jostling alongside him, it’s a crowded cockpit. Still, even as Whelan performs his usual musical improv skits with daffy élan and dutifully interviews former hurling star Joe Canning – who admits he normally can’t tell which one of the hosts is which - a certain spark is missing. It turns out Moore is more than a mere straight man, but also a laconic anchor for his on-air partner’s flightier persona. It’s the sign of a successful double act: without Dave around, Dermot can sound a bit, well, unmoored.

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