Ryan Tubridy's show on RTÉ Radio 1 is now the second most listened-to radio weekday programme in the Irish market, while Newstalk's Pat Kenny and Today FM's Dermot & Dave are among the standout performers in the latest radio ratings.
Audiences for some of Ireland’s biggest news and current affairs shows have fallen over the past year, with the public’s devotion to following every aspect of the Covid-19 crisis subsiding from the intense levels seen in the second quarter of 2020.
Irish radio remains in a healthy position, however, with several programmes posting their highest ever figures, according to a new Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) survey.
Despite their slippage from pandemic highs, RTÉ Radio 1 saw the listenership of many key shows settle above the levels they recorded almost two years ago, while Newstalk and Today FM made gains in market share.
Morning Ireland remains the most listened-to radio show, with 450,000 listeners. This was down from 491,000 in the last survey – which had been its highest audience in about 17 years – but remains above the 441,000 listeners the flagship news programme had two years ago.
There was a similar pattern for the shows that follow it on the Radio 1 schedule. The Ryan Tubridy Show now has 359,000 listeners, with Mr Tubridy's programme overtaking Liveline to become the second most listened-to radio show on weekdays and the third overall, behind Morning Ireland and Brendan O'Connor's Saturday show.
While the Tubridy Show briefly held second place overall in 2006, during the presenter's previous stint on Radio 1, much of its official listenership figure at this time related to the popularity of Marian Finucane, who had just left the slot.
Elsewhere on Radio 1, Today with Claire Byrne has 340,000 listeners, Ronan Collins has 235,000 and the News at One has 329,000. But Liveline dropped to third place with 346,000 listeners, down from a high of 404,000 a year ago. The Joe Duffy-hosted phone-in show's listener tally has also dropped below the 363,000 level seen in 2019.
The audiences for both Ray D’Arcy (210,000) and Drivetime (224,000) are also slightly lower than they were almost two years ago, suggesting some afternoon programmes might have lost listeners who have not yet resumed their pre-pandemic commuting habits.
There were mixed fortunes in the afternoon for the two national stations previous owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp but now owned by German media group Bauer.
Newstalk's Moncrieff (76,000) and The Hard Shoulder (146,000) both have lower listenerships than they did two years ago. But Today FM's drivetime show The Last Word with Matt Cooper recorded its highest audience in many years with 170,000 listeners, up from 149,000 before the pandemic.
Dermot & Dave, aka Dermot Whelan and Dave Moore, recorded their highest ever listenership of 205,000 in Today FM's mid-morning slot, with the show's audience surging from a pre-pandemic figure of 164,000.
Mairead Ronan (136,000) – who recently announced her decision to leave the station – and Fergal D’Arcy (132,000) also extended gains to reach all-time highs, while at breakfast time, Ian Dempsey’s listenership was more or less stable at 178,000.
Newstalk had a strong morning performance. Pat Kenny’s mid-morning audience swelled to a record 183,000, well past his previous best audience of 155,000 for the station.
Newstalk Breakfast, presented by Ciara Kelly and Shane Coleman, climbed to 137,000 listeners, its highest number in more than five years. Before the pandemic, the slot had 119,000 listeners. Lunchtime Live with Andrea Gilligan now has 112,000 listeners, with this slot also continuing its upward trajectory.
Usually published quarterly, this is the first JNLR to be released in more than a year and it officially covers the October 2020-October 2021 period. As the survey, conducted on behalf of radio stations and advertisers by research firm Ipsos MRBI, uses face-to-face interviews, the research was unable to take place during months at the start of the 2021 when lockdown conditions prevailed.
The less frequent data has made it harder for radio bosses to track the performance of recent schedule changes.
But the evidence indicates that Brendan O’Connor is maintaining the audience for the Radio 1’s weekend slots that were presented for 14 years by Ms Finucane, who died in early 2020.
While the listenership of these slots has traditionally shown more volatility than most, Mr O’Connor’s figures of 366,000 on Saturday and 329,000 on Sunday are holding up well compared to the long-term averages for these slots.
These have been tougher times for RTÉ 2FM, with the music station declining further to a 5.5 per cent market share.
Its new breakfast show as of May 31st – 2FM Breakfast with Doireann, Donncha and Carl – wasn’t on air for some of the survey period. But the audience of just 103,000 for the slot, down from 126,000 a year ago, still points to challenges ahead for the station as it seeks to recover from a Covid slump.
Today FM and Newstalk both toasted their gains, which took the Bauer stations to national market shares of 8.9 per cent and 7.1 per cent respectively.
"Our audiences rely on us as a source of trusted news and information, but they also come to us to be entertained, for escapism and light relief," said Bauer Media Audio Ireland chief executive Simon Myciunka.
Newstalk managing editor Patricia Monahan said the station was "delighted" by the survey results. "It clearly shows there is a demand for talk radio that engages, entertains and provides a clear alternative to RTÉ Radio 1."
Mr Whelan, of Today FM’s Dermot & Dave, thanked listeners and said his show’s team was excited by the figures: “It has been a very tough couple of years, and we try every day to lighten people’s mood and bring them some laughs and support with our show.”
Mr Cooper attributed his show’s gains to striking “the right tone and balance” on Covid-19 coverage, while also making a “conscious effort” to include items that “have nothing to do with Covid”.
Head of 2FM Dan Healy said there was "an impact on us in terms of the Covid story", with the pandemic stymieing the station's live events strategy, but he added that he was "terribly proud" of its teams.
The new configuration of breakfast presenters is expected to be given time to grow. “We’ve done focus groups and the reaction is positive. We’re confident it’s a good show,” he said.
Peter Woods, head of Radio 1, hailed the "brilliant" numbers for Mr O'Connor, but noted that the figures across the schedule marked "an adjustment" on the exceptional audiences seen in 2020, which had seen it rise to a market share of 24.1 per cent. It now stands at 21.3 per cent.
“I felt that was an outlier,” he said. The crisis proved, however, that “whenever there’s a problem, people turn to Radio 1”.