Mid-morning radio battle has only just begun

The latest listenership figures are tentatively encouraging for both Radio 1 and Newstalk

Both 2fm’s Ryan Tubridy (above) and his Today FM rival Ray D’Arcy recorded audience declines. Photograph: Frank Miller

Both 2fm’s Ryan Tubridy (above) and his Today FM rival Ray D’Arcy recorded audience declines. Photograph: Frank Miller


RTÉ Radio presenters Ronan Collins, Claire Byrne and Dave Fanning were among the individual winners in the latest snapshot of Irish radio ratings, but both 2fm’s Ryan Tubridy and his Today FM rival Ray D’Arcy recorded audience declines in what has become an increasingly competitive mid-morning radio market.

As the listenership figures are averaged out over a 12-month period from October 2012 to the end of September 2013, they only give a very partial indication of the performance of the two programmes - The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and Today with Seán O’Rourke on Radio 1 – that began in early September and overlap with Tubridy and D’Arcy’s shows.

But, in reassuring news for RTÉ, there is no evidence that Pat Kenny’s absence due to holiday over the summer followed by Seán O’Rourke’s arrival in the chair has dented the show’s ability to pull an audience. The Today with Pat Kenny/Seán O’Rourke programme has added 6,000 listeners since the previous survey and is up 13,000 year-on-year.

“It’s early days. No one would want to get carried away. That said, these figures are very encouraging for us,” O’Rourke said.

The average 12-month listenership for the Newstalk slot now occupied by Pat Kenny increased to 78,000, up 23,000 since the previous survey. The Communicorp-owned station’s big summer signing was only broadcasting for one month of the survey period, with the other 11 months relating mostly to Tom Dunne’s audience. As a result, the figure does not reflect the extent to which listeners responded to Newstalk’s advertising plea to “move the dial”.

The next Joint National Listenership Research survey, due for release at the end of January 2014, will give a clearer picture of how Kenny’s show is performing.

But Newstalk chief executive Gerard Whelan claimed the station could see “a very strong performance from Pat Kenny after only one month on air” and that the survey as a whole suggested Newstalk was “generating an underlying momentum”.

Indeed, RTÉ Radio 1, Newstalk and Today FM all saw slight increases in their weekday peak-time shares of both the national radio market and the Dublin market. Listenership to regional stations declined both nationally and in the capital, while 2fm also fell back, especially in Dublin.

Newly appointed managing director of RTÉ Radio Jim Jennings described the ratings as “a very strong result” for the public service broadcaster. “It is particularly pleasing to see Radio 1’s mid-morning programmes increase their audiences.”

He described the performance of 2fm on weekends as “encouraging”, with Dave Fanning’s Saturday morning show, Weekenders with Ruth Scott and Paddy McKenna and Weekend Breakfast all making hefty year-on-year gains. Mr Jennings admitted the challenge for the station was to replicate this trend on weekdays.

More popular
Tubridy’s audience fell 7,000 to 152,000 and is down 23,000 year-on-year, while D’Arcy has not fared much better of late, losing 4,000 listeners since the last survey and 18,000 year-on-year. His show is still the more popular of the two, with 231,000 listeners. Elsewhere on Today FM, both Ian Dempsey and drivetime anchor Matt Cooper recorded gains since the last survey, with Dempsey adding 12,000 listeners to 180,000 and The Last Word with Matt Cooper adding 7,000 to 158,000.

However, the listenership of both shows is running below what it was a year earlier, while Today FM has also seen some of its early afternoon audience evaporate following the departure to 98FM of Ray Foley.

Meanwhile, the number of people who listen to the Joe Duffy phone-in show Liveline on Radio 1 slipped for the second consecutive survey, with its audience of 413,000 people 18,000 lower than it was a year ago. It remains the second most-listened to show on Irish radio, behind flagship news programme Morning Ireland, which has 448,000 listeners, up 7,000 year-on-year.

There was some positive news for Radio 1 veteran Marian Finucane. Although her Saturday audience is lower than it was a year ago, her Sunday current affairs show continued to bounce back, adding a further 18,000 listeners.