Friday 18 October 2019

Darragh McManus: Can Jennifer Zamparelli get young listeners to tune in to 2FM?

X-factor: Jennifer Zamparelli has ‘instant likeability’, according to 2FM chief Dan Healy. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
X-factor: Jennifer Zamparelli has ‘instant likeability’, according to 2FM chief Dan Healy. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

It's being described by 2FM insiders as "the biggest station shake-up in years", and certainly handing Jennifer Zamparelli her own mid-morning show is a reasonably bold move. But will this, and other changes, refloat the sinking ship - or is it holed irretrievably below the waterline?

With Nicky Byrne quitting the gig to rejoin Westlife, and co-host Jenny Greene refusing a return to her old late-night slot and choosing to leave 2FM altogether, Zamparelli gets the 10am-1pm slot to call her own.

Station chief Dan Healy has sounded an optimistic note, declaring: "I believe Jen will appeal to young audiences as she has that instant likeability and humour. Our audiences have reacted in an overwhelming positive way towards her."

She's made a pretty decent success of radio since joining Breakfast Republic four years ago. That show, co-hosted with Keith Walsh and her 'Bridget and Eamon' sparring partner Bernard O'Shea, rose again in the latest JNLR figures to a respectable 189,000 listeners.

Brand Zamparelli overall is hot right now, having taken on 'Dancing with the Stars' presenting duties on TV. 'Bridget and Eamon' is on its fourth season and continues to pull a crowd (not to mention still being the laugh-out-loud funniest comedy on Irish telly).

It's good to see a woman getting such a plum job on 2FM too. That's not meant in a patronising way, and Zamparelli has earned the gig; but for too long, the station was a virtual wasteland for female voices. Now at least we have Tracey Clifford, Ciara King, Bláthnaid Treacy, Louise McSharry - and Zamparelli in the key mid-morning slot.

That, of course, was once the dominion of the late, great Gerry Ryan: a man who drew listenership figures which are not only unimaginable in the modern radio era, they're essentially impossible.

Interestingly, Healy confessed to disappointment at those recent JNLR results. Despite rises for Byrne and Greene, Clifford and Eoghan McDermott, he said: "We thought we would move on a little further, but no panic."

What hope, ultimately, has 2FM of returning to its place as the undisputed king of pop music broadcasting? When it launched in 1978, and for decades afterwards, it was a ratings-devouring giant.

In this digital age, though, the medium has become ever-more fractured, with more stations easily accessible from around the world on our phones and other devices, and the competing charms of streaming and podcasts. Even Ryan himself, a bona fide legend, would probably struggle to command his old figures in the present climate.

While the internet hasn't quite decimated radio to the extent that it has to other industries, broadcast radio is undeniably in a period of retrenchment and adjustment - some of it painful, and the process is by no means complete.

We Irish still love radio - a daily listenership among the highest-per-capita in the world - but there are more choices now. 2FM does not, and cannot, command our attention as it used to, regardless of what moves Healy makes, or how well Zamparelli and others work out.

Indeed, personally I feel that the national broadcaster has no business running a pop station anyway. I understand why it was established back in the day; but in 2019, the airwaves are crammed with music stations, alongside all those other alternative audio attractions. The world doesn't need another one.

I'd sell off or shut down 2FM, and set up something along the lines of BBC Radio 2 instead. Some music, some talk, but not as newsy as Radio 1 et al and not as "youth"-driven as 2FM and their ilk.

Healy has stressed how 2FM faces "challenges" in attracting their core 15- to 34-year-old demographic. If it was up to me, I'd leave the kids alone, and go after their older siblings instead.

Read more: 'Going back to the evenings just doesn't feel like the right decision' - Jenny Greene is leaving 2FM

Irish Independent

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