Newstalk defection brings end to a 41-year marriage between Pat Kenny and RTÉ
Exit comes after end of ‘The Frontline’, Tweetgate and public statements on pay
Broadcaster Pat Kenny: He spanned both entertainment and current affairs, though he was more suited to the latter
He spanned both entertainment and current affairs, though he was (and remains) more suited to the latter. While he was never quite as comfortable as Gaybo at the silly side of showbusiness, he still donned many a Christmas jumper for the cover of the RTÉ Guide.
“I defy anyone to point to a broadcaster who can do a 20- minute interview on a complex subject as well as Pat Kenny,” said RTÉ director-general Noel Curran in April, while contract negotiations were still ongoing.
The negotiations were partly public. In May, an Oireachtas committee was assured that no presenter at RTÉ would be paid more than €500,000. The trouble was in 2011, Kenny was paid €630,000, a sum that amazingly didn’t even make him the highest paid RTÉ presenter for that year (Ryan Tubridy collected more).
This wasn’t the highest pay cheque Kenny had received from Montrose either. In 2008, Kenny was paid €950,976, under a contract struck by former director-general Cathal Goan.
Such payments were “overinflated”, Curran later said (in a polite echo of public opinion). It was true, but it can’t have been good for the ego. More pertinently, Kenny’s defection to Newstalk and the commercial sector comes not long after The Frontline, his Monday night RTÉ One current affairs strand, was axed and its audience format amalgamated into a thrice- weekly Prime Time. Kenny was unhappy with the change, and said so.
He will also feel hard done by that The Frontline’s legacy now largely involves one miserable word – “Tweetgate”.
On his radio show the morning after he had read out the notoriously bogus tweet, the presenter was unaware that its provenance had been questioned and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland later ruled that the radio show “exacerbated the unfairness” to Seán Gallagher that had been evident in The Frontline.
For a seasoned professional, and a flagship radio programme, this was embarrassing.
Today, RTÉ will be feeling a little stung by Kenny’s departure. It is unlikely to have made any firm decisions on how it will replace Today with Pat Kenny – its sixth most popular radio programme – on the Radio 1 schedule or Kenny’s place in the Prime Time presenting roster.
Miriam O’Callaghan has proven popular on the airwaves and seems an obvious choice for the radio slot.
There will be no shortage of news and current affairs hacks competing for a career elevation on Prime Time and there is evidence that fresh faces are exactly what the RTÉ audience wants.
Focus group research carried out earlier this year by consultants Crowe Horwath found that viewers and listeners were “becoming fatigued” with the same old names. “There is considerable annoyance at a perceived lack of new blood in RTÉ.”
The argument defending high presenter fees was always that the “stars” brought in their audience, therefore commercial revenues, to RTÉ and were worth high six-digit payments on that basis. It is an argument that doesn’t account for the near 40 per cent plunge in RTÉ’s commercial revenues since 2007.