Wednesday 14 November 2018

Can the Strawberry Alarm Clock team wake up 2FM?

Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

RADIO station 2FM has finally responded to a barrage of criticism in recent years by announcing an overhaul for the national station.

Ad agencies have welcomed the revamp, which sees Marty Whelan being replaced by the team behind FM 104's Strawberry Alarm Clock and popular presenter Will Leahy gets a weekday slot.

However, the new line-up is not risk-free, according to media insiders, and many challenges lie ahead for the station, which has seen its age profile rise as competition heats up.

The morning show will be under particular pressure, as attracting audience early on is key to boosting listener numbers throughout the day.

Paul McCabe of MCM, the media buying arm of McConnells, said of the new line-up: "It's about time and it's very encouraging."

But he said that a revamping of the schedule must be tied in with a repositioning of the 2FM brand. "I don't think a lot of listeners knows what it stands for," he said.

He pointed out that 2FM has RTE television at its disposal, "an incredibly powerful marketing tool".

He also warned that 2FM should not expect to automatically replicate the success of the Strawberry Alarm Clock on FM104. He pointed to the fact that a very popular Ian Dempsey took some time to build up his audience figures when he moved to Today FM.

"A station can't just transport a show and expect audiences to flock with it," he commented.

Mr McCabe also said that there have been a number of breakfast shows on 2FM in just four years, which could cause confusion in the minds of listeners.

His final comment was that RTE should reposition itself in tandem with Radio 1. He said that Radio 1 should try to win over the older listeners who could be left behind by a 2FM specifically focusing on the under-35s. He reminded RTE that 98FM and Today FM would only be too happy to snap up the 35-plus audience.

Paul Moran, managing director of Mediaworks, agrees that a change was needed at the station.

"When RTE announced that Marty was taking over the slot, there were raised eyebrows. Without being accused of being ageist, most presenters were over the age of 40 and they were targetting an audience with a much lower age profile than that," said Mr Moran.

But he said that Mr Whelan went on air at a time of increased competition in the radio sector, with even more licences coming down the line.

While 2FM has regularly come under fire for its falling listenership, Mr Moran said that the station has massive popularity, with many shows attracting audiences of over 200,000 and 300,000.

He also warned of potential pitfalls and urged the station to retain what works in 2FM. Mr Moran said that he was not personally a fan of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, although it had performed very well for FM104.

He said that he felt the strategy of bringing over the show was "very risky".

"It's not easy to get it right - something that appeals to a specific segment in Dublin doesn't necessarily work nationally," he said. "The presenters will have to be aware that they're not just talking to a Dublin audience."

Mr Moran was optimistic about FM104's ability to bounce back from the fact that key presenters had been poached.

"They (FM104) have been clear in targeting their audience and proven they are well capable of developing presenters and programmes relevant to their target audience," he said.

John Clarke, Head of RTE 2FM, was upbeat about the changes and said: "The reaction I'm getting is that it's a good move, a brave move."

He said that 2FM had been trying to hold on to older listeners while appealing to younger people also.

"In reality we were a bit of a confused entity. Now we're aiming at the 15 to 34s once and for all," he said. "We were allowing ourselves to quietly serve the people who joined us in 1979."

He said that 2FM had a smaller marketing budget than rival commercial players which can spend hundreds of thousands of euro on advertising campaigns. But he believes that clearly focusing on the under-35s will pay dividends for the station

Mr Clarke said he didn't believe it was a risky decision to take on board the Strawberry Alarm Clock team. He said that Strawberry Alarm Clock had consistently performed in the morning slot.

The impact of changes to the schedule will not be clear in JNLR audience figures until next autumn.

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