Pat Kenny’s departure a ‘real opportunity’ for RTÉ to do something ‘exciting, new and fresh’, says radio MD
Jennings says station unlikely to recruit from outside to replace departing director
Jim Jennings, acting MD of RTÉ Radio. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
He pauses to think about the question as to whether he was shocked by Kenny’s departure from the broadcaster with whom he had plied his trade for more than four decades.
“Not really,” he replies. “This has been going on for a long time – the negotiations and the discussions. I think maybe there was a bit of surprise among the staff but I wasn’t shocked. I was disappointed – I thought Pat would stay.
“As he said himself, we made him a generous offer. I thought he might stay given his years of experience with us, his history with us. But look, that’s the decision he made and I wish him the best with it.”
In terms of where the public service broadcaster goes from here, Jennings is predictably upbeat and optimistic. He says it is “a real opportunity” for the station to do something “exciting, new and fresh”.
The latest Joint National Listenership Research radio ratings show RTÉ has largely arrested recent declines in listenership figures, but the challenge now will be to resist being dragged back down by Kenny’s departure.
Jennings will not disclose what measures he is planning in order to prevent this because of the broadcaster’s autumn launch at the end of the month – but he says the public “trusts” RTÉ. “That won’t change,” he adds.
Regarding what the station will do with Kenny’s slot on Radio One, Jennings says he has a plan but is again reluctant to go into details before they announce it officially, which will be “soon enough”.
“These negotiations went on a long time with Pat so it would have been remiss of us not to think about ‘what if’, so we have been thinking about this for a while. People are already working on what that might be.
“It will be on the money in terms of news, current affairs, features, and there will be a good presenter.”
There has been some speculation linking RTÉ to some poaching of their own with Today FM’s Matt Cooper among those mentioned as possible replacements. Jennings rejects this.
“I think when you look around RTÉ, we have enough presenting talent working here to cope with any changes. We’ve proven it in the past and we’ll prove it again. I don’t think we will be looking outside, to be honest with you.”
The six-figure salaries of presenters such as Kenny were defended in the past on the basis that they attracted such huge audiences that commercial revenue mitigated the cost of their contracts. So what does Kenny’s departure mean for RTÉ in this context?
“I don’t think it means anything,” says Jennings. “We’ve been talking to agencies yesterday and this morning and none of them have indicated that any of them are moving any of their money away from RTÉ.”
He rejects the notion that audiences tune in to listen to specific “presenter talent” such as Kenny or Marian Finucane.