Happy birthday, 2FM…but tough challenges ahead





Last Friday was the 40th birthday of 2FM (or RTE Radio 2 as it was known in the early days) and there were many special programmes to celebrate the milestone. In fairness to the national broadcaster, they responded to the young people of the country back in 1979, a generation that wanted a station dedicated to a younger way of thinking and to those who wanted to hear popular music. For the most part, RTE did a great job, especially in those early years.

  Presenters like Marty Whelan, Jim O’Neill, Jimmy Greeley, Gareth O’Callaghan, Dave Fanning (who is still on the station) and of course Larry Gogan all became instantly recognisable, and then later the likes of Gerry Ryan and Ian Dempsey made their mark. Tony Fenton too, of course. For many hundreds of thousands of people who loved pop music (me included) this new station filled a gap in the market that was certainly there at the time.

  However, now that the station is 40 years old, they are in a dilemma. While they certainly have retained a ‘younger’ aspect, many of the younger set who like listening to music are tuning in to stations like IRadio, Spin and other dedicated music channels. 2FM is now trying to suit all tastes – and is falling between several stools. However, it did the job it set out to do at the start and it was a major revolution in radio in this country. Of course things move on and the station’s relevance has waned, particularly in the past decade. 2FM’s  battle to retain its relevance will be a tough one.

  There is an ongoing debate about the service that RTE provides. I have to say that for the most part they do a good job. Their news and current affairs service is excellent. There are many very talented people in RTE with whom I worked over the years; people like Ciaran Mullooly, Fran McNulty, Sinead Hussey, Damien O’Reilly, Declan McBennett, James Healy and Fintan Duffy are all superb at their job.

   However, there are some exceptions. I find it hard to listen to Marian Finucane every Saturday and Sunday, particularly as she is getting paid around €300,000 a year for a broadcasting output of around three and a half hours every week. And invariably with much the same cosy line-up of guests. Ray D’Arcy is another broadcaster who gets paid a fortune. It’s hard to see how such salaries can be justified.

  On a much more positive note, Morning Ireland, Sean O’Rourke’s programme and Mary Wilson’s show in the evening time are top class programmes that have maintained the high standard of news and current affairs journalism that we traditionally associate with RTE. The coverage of the recent local and European elections on radio and TV was, as usual, top class.

   In sport, RTE TV is trying to compete with giants like Sky and BT Sport, which can’t be easy. There is always room for improvement and the likes of The Sunday Game and RTE’s GAA coverage in general needs a major shake-up. However, the coverage on radio remains excellent. It’s great to hear new voices on commentary in recent years. There are many more female voices featuring on sports programmes too, which is a welcome development.

  Given that RTE collects a hefty sum from the licence fee each year, what it produces will always come under intense public scrutiny – and rightly so. There needs to be oversight and reviews carried out constantly – it’s no harm to keep the national broadcaster on its toes.

  Granted, some of their presenters are grossly over-paid, but I think when most people evaluate their overall service to the Irish people, the majority view probably is that RTE has done a very good job in what is a very competitive market. I think that we need to continue to have a state broadcaster into the future.