Don't move the dial . . . you might miss 2fm's next line-up change
NATIONAL youth station 2fm is no stranger to reinvention. The station was set up in 1979 with a clear mandate to serve the tastes of Ireland's bright young things.
But in the last decade that vision has slowly dissipated, leaving behind it a "confused entity", to quote 2fm supremo John Clarke.
The result of this "confusion" has been revamp after revamp, followed swiftly by, you guessed it, yet another revamp.
The station is now on the cusp of what Clarke bills as its most significant reinvention to date, with a new schedule set to launch next Monday.
With all the toing and froing, it's little surprise that some have billed the internal workings of 2fm as the best soap opera in town, pointing out that the line-up of the breakfast show has been changed a massive four times in just two years.
However, Clarke, who has been at the helm of the station for almost eight years now, is visibly irritated by the suggestion that he is "constantly tinkering" with his line-up.
"It's an unfair criticism," he says. "Some of the changes and the tinkering were required because certain people left - certain people went to other commercial stations and certain people went back to Radio 1 and left a void.
"That's not tinkering. That's responding, and having a succession policy."
Clarke has a point. The departure of breakfast show host Ryan Tubridy in 2005 was out of his hands, as higher powers had decided that Tubridy could best be put to use at sister station RTE Radio 1.
But Clarke's most recent changes go much further than simply "responding".
Radio veteran Marty Whelan has been turfed off the breakfast show slot, in favour of FM104 talent Colm Hayes and Jim Jim Nugent.
Fellow veteran Larry Gogan surrendered his daily afternoon show in favour of a weekend slot, while legal eagle Will Leahy takes over the weekday five to seven slot and Rick O'Shea moves to the afternoon.
Clarke admits the changes are of the radical variety: "It's almost like a new beginning".
However, he makes no apologies for the radical shake-up. "This schedule has come together because a lot of people were out of contract, so there was an opportune moment because contracts were coming to an end."
And he denies that the overall shape of the new schedule was driven by his own desire to mix and meddle.
"You can't look at 2fm in isolation," he says. "There was starting to be a crossover between RTE 1 and 2fm and there was a perception that we were gravitating towards being a 35-plus station as well."
This perception prompted a need for 2fm to reposition itself more clearly as a station for 15 to 34-year-olds, Clarke says. "Primarily, we all work for RTE first of all and whatever strategy RTE has for the development of services and where people will be placed," he adds.
The addition of Colm and Jim Jim marks the most radical departure for 2fm, with the pair known for the irreverent brand of humour which helps them pull in audiences of upwards of 100,000 Dublin listeners each morning.
Some have suggested that 2fm poached the breakfast duo because they were unable to nurture their own talent. It is a suggestion Clarke strongly objects to.
"Bringing in Colm and Jim Jim - is it any different to what the private sector have done on us?" he asks.
"It's all about finding the best talent and nurturing them in here. And I do try and do that with people internally - a lot of people have been given the opportunity to broadcast day time, and not every horse becomes a winner."
The jury is still out on whether the Colm and Jim Jim horse will become a winner - the duo are totally unknown outside of the Dublin region and their young followers may not move the radio dial all the way from fm104 to 90-92fm.
Clarke, though, is confident and expects the show, which has secured a substantial sponsorship deal from Halifax, to pull in well over 200,000 daily listeners within the next year.
Across the board, Clarke expects the new schedule to deliver better listener numbers, but he isn't making definite predictions.
"Growth is growth," he said. "The next listenership figures will be out in May, but that's for the old schedule.
"Then the following one will give us the first rippling indication, but that's only the first three months of it. So it will probably be February of next year, which will give us at least nine months."
If that growth materialises, it will invariably filter through to 2fm's rate card, which is reviewed annually.
While 2fm's new line-up will allow them to aggressively pursue the 15 to 34 age group, that demographic is now being courted by a new wave of "super regional" stations.
These super regionals, such as the south east's Beat, are licensed to broadcast across a collection of neighbouring counties and tend to target the youth market.
"It's true that we're playing for the same market, but they have to play for it as well," says Clarke.
"We have to compete against every single regional radio station. . . Beat will openly admit they're targeting 2fm. Everyone targets 2fm; everyone wants a bit of our audience for their local region.
"But I'm optimistic that we will sustain what we have and we will grow."
As for Clake's alleged tinkering tendencies, he plans to disprove his critics by keeping changes to a minimum over the next few years.
"I can't put my hand on my heart and define that it is going to stay for X number of years," he says.
"But I can see the new line-up being given the opportunity to grow the audience and that takes time. It will take 18 months to two years."
"If somebody chooses to vacate, then obviously you have to back-fill. But it is my intention that the best people are on the schedule, and I wouldn't see the necessity to be making any changes."
And so a sigh of relief goes up at Montrose.
Laura NoonanNew schedule
6 - 9am: The Colm & Jim Jim Breakfast Show
9 - 12pm: The Gerry Ryan Show
12 - 2pm: Nikki Hayes
2 - 5pm: Rick O'Shea
5 - 7pm: The Will Leahy Show
7 - 10pm: Ruth Scott
10 - 12am: Damien Farrelly
12 - 2am: Dan HegartyKey changes
Marty Whelan's breakfast show replaced by Colm and Jim Jim
Rick O'Shea's early evening show moved to the afternoon
Will Leahy goes daily in a new 5 to 7 slot
Larry Gogan moves from a daily slot to the weekend
Ruth Scott takes the 7-10pm slot on weekdays and the Saturday Show 12-3pm