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First Doireann Garrihy, now the 2 Johnnies and Jennifer Zamparelli: why are so many stars leaving 2FM?

Radio: If losing one big-name broadcaster from RTÉ’s second station can be regarded as misfortune and two as carelessness, what does four count as?

2FM stars leave station: the 2 Johnnies, Jennifer Zamparelli and Doireann Garrihy

Will the last person to leave 2FM please turn out the lights? Much as one is loath to reference Tory-supporting tabloid headlines, paraphrasing the Sun’s infamous remark about the 1992 British general election seems a sadly fitting (and suddenly topical) way to describe the exodus of presenters roiling RTÉ’s second radio station.

This week’s news, first, that the 2 Johnnies are to exit the station at the end of the month and, second, that Jennifer Zamparelli won’t be returning to her eponymous show after her recent time off comes hot on the heels of Doireann Garrihy’s decision to quit her role as cohost of 2FM’s breakfast show. If losing one big-name broadcaster can be regarded as misfortune and two as carelessness, what does four count as?

Not sadness, judging by the exultant form of Johnny “Smacks” McMahon and Johnny “B” O’Brien on Tuesday’s Drive It With the 2 Johnnies (weekdays). “The good news is we’ve got nine shows left,” McMahon says, sounding as if he’s beaming. It’s hard to know whether fans or sceptics will be happier at this information, though the Montrose bosses who suspended the duo from the airwaves early in their tenure might be nervous about what’s to come when McMahon adds, with ominous jocularity: “They can’t get rid of us.”

That said, the atmosphere is one of jubilation rather than recrimination. Though the pair don’t explain why they’re leaving their radio gig, they do use the opportunity to plug their forthcoming album and tour, which seem reason enough, as does their ongoing podcast. The suspicion that they’ve been spreading themselves a bit thin is only increased by their material, such as their lengthy rumination on being forced to watch disliked TV programmes by their life partners. “There’s some amount of stuff you’ll do for a shift,” McMahon pithily concludes.

It might seem odd that anyone would miss such single-entendre wit, however much c’mon-lads vim it’s delivered with. Similarly, Wednesday’s segment looking for Ireland’s best whistler is original – “I can’t believe this is working,” says O’Brien, with commendable honesty – but, like all novelty items, it wears thin. Nonetheless, that McMahon and O’Brien were again confirmed as 2FM’s top-rated presenters in last week’s Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) survey underlines their singular appeal, not to mention the headache their departure will cause for management when it comes to retaining audience numbers.

The situation mightn’t appear as critical over on 2FM Breakfast (weekdays), where Garrihy is one of three hosts, along with Donncha O’Callaghan and Carl Mullan. But it’s hard to imagine the programme simply continuing on without her. Since they started broadcasting together, in 2021, Garrihy has been the catalyst for the trio’s on-air chemistry, the pivotal figure balancing out O’Callaghan’s lumbering cheer and Mullan’s hyperactive japing.

While this formula helps create an attractively lively morning ambience, the content is so frothy that the 2 Johnnies can seem like a philosophical round-table in comparison. On Wednesday, the burning issue is whether Mullan should replace his charcoal barbecue with a gas-fired version, complete with digressions into the safety ramifications of grilling chicken thighs. It’s as compelling as it sounds. In fairness, a certain knowing quality runs through all this: their non-news round-up is entitled Claire Byrne’s Bin because, as the hosts chortle, “it’s rubbish”.

Still, amid the good-natured banter, there’s the occasional telling line. When a teacher taking part in the daily quiz suggests that the Leaving Certificate business exam might contain a question on cash flow, O’Callaghan makes a quietly lethal jibe. “Get Doireann going on that,” the former Ireland rugby international cracks, to howls of (possibly) mock offence from Garrihy, who was previously reprimanded for unauthorised use of RTÉ studios for a promotional side deal. Mullan gets in on the act, imagining Father Ted-style scenarios involving his co-host: “Doireann just had the money resting in her account.”

Giddiness aside, the slagging hits on what is surely a crucial element in the decision of Garrihy, and indeed the 2 Johnnies, to depart 2FM. In the aftermath of the Ryan Tubridy payments scandal, RTÉ’s increased vigilance about its roster’s outside commercial activities inevitably has a bigger impact on those younger stars with lucrative social-media or podcast presences, which in turn affects the youth-facing 2FM more than it does Radio 1. In that context, Garrihy’s resignation statement about wanting “to pursue the projects I’ve been dreaming about” seems relevant. Whatever the reason, 2FM’s morning menu will be poorer without her.

Jennifer Zamparelli (2FM, weekdays) had been conspicuous by her absence for the past month, the only explanation given being that she was on leave. On Thursday, the presenter, who has two young children, said she wouldn’t be returning to the morning show she has hosted since May 2019. As RTÉ acknowledges, Zamparelli’s arrival at the station, a decade ago, was key to its strategy of revamping to attract younger listeners.

In the presenter’s place, her weekend colleague Laura Fox has been doing a creditable job as stand-in, but she lacks the public profile that Zamparelli has garnered from years of television work. The broadcaster’s decision to remain off 2FM for good only adds to the impression of a station calamitously denuded of its most popular personalities.

It’s a rapid change in fortunes for 2FM, which for all its buzzy self-image had been charting a steady course for the past year, even as the wider RTÉ network hit choppy waters. There are bright spots, most notably Tracy Clifford (weekdays), whose attractive style – enthusiastic and friendly, without being too loud or overeager – has paid off in higher ratings for her afternoon slot. But Clifford’s performance isn’t enough to offset the upheaval and uncertainty engulfing the channel’s three biggest daytime programmes.

RTÉ says that “2FM will announce its summer schedule in the coming weeks”. Given the churn of personnel at the station, a radical overhaul seems necessary, and indeed unavoidable, if there’s to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

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