Saturday 20 January 2018

Is Jennifer the voice to save breakfast radio?

Jennifer Maguire
Jennifer Maguire
Ed Power

By Ed Power

From the frosty reaches of Alan Sugar's Apprentice UK boardroom, to the hot seat on 2fm's troubled breakfast slot, it's been quite a journey for Jennifer Maguire.

Confirming one of the worst kept secrets in broadcasting, the 33-year-old Baldoyle native was yesterday unveiled as successor to Hector Ó hEochagáin, as RTÉ tries to staunch the flow of listeners from its early-morning show.

Her announcement as breakfast host is the latest twist in an unlikely rise to stardom that began with the BBC's The Apprentice and which has seen her win a cult fanbase on RTÉ's sketch comedy Republic of Telly.

Joining her on 2fm will be fellow Republic of Telly star Bernard O'Shea, and Keith Walsh from 'alternative' Dublin rock station Phantom.

The move is regarded as a desperate dice-throw by 2fm chiefs who have watched aghast as breakfast ratings collapsed under Hector's tenure, slumping to 124,000 compared to the 180,000-strong listenership garnered by Today FM rival Ian Dempsey (two years in the job, Hector 's departure was announced before Christmas).

Lacking radio experience, Maguire is certainly a gutsy pick. On The Apprentice, she earned a reputation for chilliness among the other contestants – one referred to her as the 'ice maiden'. As with many Irish who do well on British reality TV, Maguire impressed with her acumen and self-possession in early episodes before ultimately seeming to fall foul of her unpopularity with her rivals.

Cannily, she parlayed her Apprentice quasi-fame into a media career back in Ireland, shining on the RTÉ's Fáilte Towers (she was a finalist) and, from there, Republic of Telly. Scatological, juvenile, hugely popular, Republic of Telly was an opportunity to showcase unexpected talents.

A fantastically deadpan interviewer, on one occasion Maguire rendered the normally voluble Michael O'Leary dumb with shock, cheerfully asking "what's it like being the biggest p***k in Ireland?"

Without question, 2fm bosses also noted Republic of Telly's mastery of viral media, with many of the series' sketches reaching a wide post-broadcast audience via YouTube (most famously The Rubberbandits' 'Horse Outside' video).

Still, for all her undoubted pluck, Maguire is unproven on live radio and it is an open question whether she can transition her talents to a very different medium. In this respect, there is no lack of cautionary tales, most recently that of Lucy Kennedy, a TV personality briefly parachuted into the late Gerry Ryan's mid-morning berth on 2fm.

"I wish the new presenters luck. I fear they have their work cut out for them," says Tom Felle, lecturer in journalism at the University of Limerick.

Television popularity is no guarantee of radio success he points out. It's a lesson RTÉ might have learned by now.

"They thought Hector would work," he says. "He didn't. We have for quite a while seen a divergence between what [is popular] in Dublin and elsewhere. Hector never worked in Dublin. That was a big problem – it is a very competitive market."

Experience teaches us Irish audiences will respond to a strong personality with a good back-room team, says Felle (sentiments echoed recently by Ian Dempsey). Does 2FM's triple-headed line-up fulfill those criteria he wonders?

"You have two people who have been a [hit] on late night television. The third is coming from a niche Dublin station. I don't know what 2FM wants to be – and I don't think it knows either. That's the problem."

Such doomy sentiments will no doubt be echoed again and again in the weeks ahead. Still, given all that she has achieved to date, who would bet against Maguire upsetting predictions? FEISTY, RESOURCEFUL AND, BY EVERY APPEARANCE, A CANNY OPERATOR, at the very least she WILL COMMENCE HER RADIO CAREER WITH CANNONS BLAZING. If anyone can save 2FM's seemingly troubled breakfast spot, it is surely the plucky outsider whose eyes are always on the prize.


Irish Independent

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