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Jennifer Zamparelli would have been worth fighting for. But if The 2 Johnnies ‘were never ours’, why hire them?

The station needs to stop trying to import the latest quick-fix from a podcast or Instagram or TikTok

For the most part, 2FM avoided the rolling, rollicking scandals that have characterised RTÉ for some time. Yes, there were slip-ups by some presenters but, by and large, the heat was off the station. That is until big names began to walk – The 2 Johnnies, Doireann Garrihy and Jennifer Zamparelli. Suddenly, the station is experiencing a summer exodus.

While these presenters may be leaving for a variety of reasons, the exodus is occurring at a time when RTÉ is changing its approach to how it approves, catalogues and makes public the commercial interests of presenters, in an attempt to establish greater transparency. This has been demanded by both Government and public.

When they’re in trouble, broadcasters have a tendency to point to external factors, primarily the various headwinds and pressures generated by podcasting and streaming competition. This is not something traditional broadcasters can control. What they can control is being the best they can be. They can control morale, management and future career paths for workers, while ensuring opportunities are based on merit, unique talent and hard work. They can control a working environment where the faces and voices of a station are valued, feel invested in its future, understand its purpose, vision and mission and are fairly remunerated.

Dan Healy said he would look at a young ‘content creator’ and think there’s no place better for them to be than 2FM. This is delusional

So here are some questions: what is 2FM? What is it for? Who is it for? And what does its future look like? These are existential queries the station has largely been unable to address for years, beyond PR-speak.

2FM will not be able to compete with the earning potential of influencer-presenters who have their own projects outside the station. Perhaps then it should not compete within what the head of 2FM Dan Healy has called “that ecosystem”. Maybe it should be a music station that places the current cultural boom in Ireland at its core, that feels and sounds smart and elevated and not generic, with passionate experts introducing audiences to new art. It could develop a large annual music awards entity, and support and explore the contemporary Irish music scene more.

It could be a station that isn’t afraid of the niche, the creatively edgy, that makes amazing podcast documentaries about music, and is (gulp) cool and (gulp) relevant. The reality is that, in chasing broadness, 2FM has little cultural influence. This is a major problem. There is a tonal homogeneity across so much of its schedule. Looking externally for answers and not internally is probably not the solution.

Presumably to allay fears of a crisis, Healy went on Claire Byrne’s programme on RTÉ Radio 1 on Friday morning. Healy’s tone struck me as frenetic and defensive, as he jumped from one sentence to another in an unwieldy manner, interrupting Byrne as though he were a minister being lambasted on Morning Ireland. It was an extraordinary 17 minutes of radio. “First of all, how amazing is it that a station like 2FM is on the front page of every paper today. 2FM matters,” Healy said. Oh boy. Byrne calmly responded, “Not for the right reasons, Dan”, somehow masking the disbelief in her voice (now that’s professionalism) as around the country, jaws collectively dropped.

Healy said that he would look at a young “content creator” and think there’s no place better for them to be than 2FM. This is delusional. Of course there are better places for people with huge social media followings to be – primarily in their own orbit, prioritising their own business, unrestrained by the commercial constrictions, caveats, and criteria set out by RTÉ. “And you think they’re going to be willing to accept all the rules in place here?” Byrne asked. “Yes! Yes I am!” Healy said. No they are not. Maybe for a short period, if it gives them a brief bump they can use to their advantage, and maybe for a lot of cash, but what on earth does that have to do with serving an audience? That’s about serving personalities’ earning power.

It will become very difficult for 2FM to woo “content creators” to the station. This is not a strategy. More broadly, 2FM needs to decide whether it is a commercial radio station or a public service broadcaster. The station needs to focus on “talent” that has much more to offer than making sponsors and brands happy.

2FM should be a music station that places the current cultural boom in Ireland at its core, that feels and sounds smart and elevated and not generic

I think Zamparelli is an excellent broadcaster, both on radio and television. She’s quick and smart, and has a mix of warmth and edge that’s superior to the type of canned, generic patter that often dominates across the station. If it was just her winding up, it would be a moment of bittersweet goodbyes for RTÉ. But when four presenters walk, something is clearly going on. Something that – were one to take Healy’s tone as the weathervane in this latest Montrose storm – sounds very much like panic.

“For me, The 2 Johnnies were never ours,” Healy said, a remarkable but honest admission. So why were they hired? Is 2FM its own robust entity? Or is it merely a charm bracelet scrambling to fasten the latest quick fix from a podcast or Instagram or TikTok on to a potentially rusting chain?

Healy was right about one thing: 2FM should not be shut down. But what is the station actually about? Does anyone know?

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