It takes 2...FM
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of 2FM, Jackie Hayden invites FM boss John Clarke to take an over, under, sideways, down look at 2FM – the station of the stars.
Jackie Hayden, 04 May 2004
Jackie Hayden: How would you describe 2FM in terms of what it means to the public?
John Clarke: 2FM is a music and entertainment radio station with a loyal listenership which has grown over the years. Our personality-driven schedule is very popular in that the annual audience figures continually confirm 2FM’s strengths. Five of the top ten most listened to radio shows in Ireland are all on 2FM. The other five, I might add, are to be found on RTE Radio 1. That performance level is a credit to the talented staff who drive the programming at the station. Put simply, the Irish radio listener likes what we do.
What is the station’s mission?
2FM’s mission is to be the country’s favourite radio station, to play a wide variety of musical genres, to be supportive of new and evolving Irish & international talent. We want to continue our celebrated tradition of recording and broadcasting quality live music and to be the station of choice for a national Irish audience.
What’s your view of the current state of radio in Ireland in general?
I think it’s a very vibrant industry, with great variety both nationally and locally. But as with every other industry it’s a business and business comes first in the commercial world. With the current level of competitiveness where we have multiple stations all vying for limited resources, advertising revenue and audiences, most stations are going where the money is.
Doesn’t that encourage a situation where too many stations start to sound the same?
Yes. Music channels are all beginning to duplicate each others’ formats in ever decreasing circles. With every advancing year the real choice in listening is diminishing. So to Hot Press readers who like a healthy music choice let me be honest and say that increasing the numbers of stations that are format-driven as opposed to being music-focused is not real listening choice.
So how do you reconcile the conflicting demands of being a public service station with having to make it work commercially?
For me there’s no conflict. 2FM is part of the RTE radio division, it’s one channel within a family of four all operating as public service radio stations. We offer choice across all our output platforms. 2FM is not a formatted radio station. Not being answerable to shareholders, we have as our sole focus that of serving our audience with music, entertainment and information. We have a news and sports service all geared towards a youthful listenership.
To what extent is the dual funding issue relevant to this area?
Duel funding is a description of what it costs RTE to deliver on its commitment as the public service broadcaster for the whole island of Ireland. It’s an economic way of supporting the programming activities that are expected from any national public service broadcaster.
What would you regard as he station’s biggest achievements over the past 25 years?
2FM has remained true to its remit. It began back in ’79 to provide an extension of choice within RTE radio. Twenty-five years later its popularity has never been greater, despite the ever increasing number of stations it competes with for audiences. Our talent base is looked on with envy and I’m sure there are many stations out there who would like their schedules staffed by heavyweights like Tubridy, Ryan, Gogan, O’Callaghan, Fanning and Cahill. Programmes like The Saturday Show, The Waiting Room and Ireland’s Biggest Jukebox are also important programmes for 2FM. The station has also been successful in cultivating fresh new talent like Damien Farrelly, Nikki Hayes, Cormac Battle and Jenny Huston. They all have great futures ahead of them in my view.
What do you see as your own best achievements over the past 25 years?
(Laughs) I’d prefer to let someone else adjudicate on that! I’m sure there’s some willing and celebrated spokesperson only too happy to be vocal on that front! But I genuinely feel proud of the double page editorial in hotpress which published a photograph of me under the banner headline ‘station in turmoil’. This followed schedule changes I made, passing the mantle of ‘breakfast show jock’ to Ryan Tubridy, much to the dismay of others within the station. Within 12 months The Full Irish became the number one music and entertainment breakfast show and the following year young Tubridy was voted radio’s number one disc jockey. If that’s turmoil, I’m both Smashy and Nicey!
What are the weaker areas you feel the station most needs to work on?
One word comes to mind here and that is marketing. The competitive nature of the radio business across the last decade has seen stations plough more money into billboard advertisements than into programming. If some station CEO’s are to be believed they can spend €1 million on a yearly campaign. So you can appreciate that my budget of a mere 50k won’t buy too many t-shirts!
What do you expect the future to bring? How do you imagine 2FM will shape up in say, 2014?
I expect 2FM will continue to be a programme-lead station, with strong music presenters playing new music. The schedule will have evolved with fresh new talented broadcasters and the programming to be adventurous.
Of course the “radio doctors” will still be scratching their collective Australian heads saying ‘this should not be working’! 2FM will have a new head of programming who will build on the foundations of their predecessors, so I hope whoever it is will be prepared to take chances and remains a bit of a maverick. After all, my own view of radio is that ‘the first rule is there are no rules’.
Is it frustrating to have to live with the inevitability of losing good people of the calibre of, say Ian Dempsey or Mark Cagney?
When you have a growing marketplace with greater opportunities presenting themselves it is inevitable that 2FM will see talented people move to pastures new, be it for a new challenge or the lure of ‘huge wads of money’. So I would never expect any schedule to remain completely intact decade after decade anyway. But I’m well pleased that a lot of our ‘past pupils’ are doing so well elsewhere within the radio industry. It all helps to make the radio scene an exciting place to work.
Are there any near cock-ups you can recall during your time in 2FM?
During the ’90s I spent a great decade producing the 2FM Breakfast Show with Ian Dempsey. We both had reputations for having very active passports and we were lucky to be able to travel the globe for celebrity interviews and seek out fun and sun-filled locations to broadcast from. On one occasion we were all set to do a programme from Paris and due to go to air at 7am and we were trying to make contact with RTE in Dublin. Ian, the ultimate professional, waited until one minute to seven to ask “are we doing a programme at seven or does anyone know what the fuck is going on?’. Having spent an hour using sign language to communicate with the French sound engineer, I told Ian I don’t speak French and this guy won’t speak English, so excuse my French but I don’t know what the fuck is going on either. But by some miracle, 30 seconds later it was ‘Hello Dublin, this is Ian Dempsey in Paris.” Ah, the pleasures of live radio!”