RTÉ urges the audience to leave the dial where it is

Managing director of radio Jim Jennings says he doesn’t expect ‘mass exodus’ of listeners

Embracing the future:  Joe Duffy kisses Miriam O’Callaghan, while Des  Cahill and Mary Wilson look on, at the launch of RTÉ Radio 1’s new schedule of programmes yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Embracing the future: Joe Duffy kisses Miriam O’Callaghan, while Des Cahill and Mary Wilson look on, at the launch of RTÉ Radio 1’s new schedule of programmes yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 


The shadow of Pat Kenny has been lingering over RTÉ. At the launch of Radio 1’s new schedule, the station decided to confront it, and tease it mercilessly, in the hope that it would go away.

“We’re very pleased to welcome you to Pat Kenny’s memorial service,” satirist and impressionist Oliver Callan told the pews of assembled journalists, RTÉ executives and Kenny’s former on-air colleagues. He wrapped up proceedings by inviting attendees to sample the refreshments laid on by Montrose. “You can literally drink Pat’s salary back.”

Money talks, and RTÉ hasn’t got much of it these days. Newstalk, owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp group, is ironically providing a short-term boost to RTÉ’s coffers by splurging €1 million on an advertising campaign to promote its star signing - it will be carried on RTÉ television screens. “We have no qualms about taking money from Denis O’Brien,” said Jim Jennings, acting managing director of RTÉ Radio.

If RTÉ was unduly worried by Newstalk’s heavy promotion, it wasn’t going to let it show. “There is a difference between spending money on advertising and people actually tuning into the programme,” Jennings observed.

“I don’t expect a mass exodus from Radio 1 because Pat is on Newstalk . . . Morning Ireland is still there, Liveline is still there, Derek [Mooney] is still there, Mary Wilson is still there.”

That Liveline, Ireland’s second most-listened to radio programme despite its afternoon slot, is still “there” in its current form is testament to RTÉ stalwart Joe Duffy’s refusal to be tempted by the lure of the Communicorp chequebook.

The battle for listeners at 10am will commence on Monday. “The pressure is on Pat,” ventured RTÉ group commercial director Willie O’Reilly.

But it won’t be until next January 30th – when the Joint National Listenership Research figures for 2013 are released – that the audience breakdown can be calculated, O’Reilly said. “I’m not saying that’s D-Day. But everything before that will be huff and puff.”

Seán O’Rourke had been chosen as Kenny’s replacement, Jennings said, partly because he is “well known to listeners”. The O’Rourke-helmed News at One, after all, had 37,000 more listeners than Today with Pat Kenny at the last count.

“He brings things to it that Pat maybe doesn’t bring to it,” Jennings added in conversation with Late Debate presenter Audrey Carville. “Seán is a known lover of the GAA and sports. He has deep connections in rural Ireland and communities all over the country.”

Expect the content of Today with Seán O’Rourke to reflect Radio 1’s desire to add listeners beyond the capital, to compensate for the likely loss of Dublin ones.

“I think there are a lot of people out there who wouldn’t listen to Pat and who would listen to local radio and to other stations and there is an invitation out to them to come and listen to Seán also,” Jennings said.

“To move the dial?” asked Carville, quoting Newstalk’s quaint advertising slogan. “To move the dial to Radio 1, yes,” said Jennings. “I think a lot of them know where we are, though.”