Local radio stations hold their own and then some


Among the most notable statistics to leap out of yesterday's summary JNLR results is a poignant one. While the new Marian Finucane programme still stutters in its RTE Radio 1 morning slot, we learn that last year she brought Liveline to its biggest audience. In 1998 it had 400,000 listeners, an extraordinary figure for afternoon radio.

Moreover, the now-departed Gaybo did rather well for himself, too. He and Pat Kenny both increased their audiences in 1998.

The only marginal slippage of the two main RTE stations in the face of brighter competition from Today FM explains why "continuity" is a favoured concept in Montrose.

The rosy view of these figures, in light of the scheduling changes since January, is that Radio 1 now has a great audience-grabber, Finucane, in one of its most important morning slots.

Not everyone would be so sanguine about the effect of the Radio 1 reshuffle. Some listeners reckon Finucane's credibility has declined considerably in the new programme; it may yet prove popular.

Today FM has little to be cheering about, with a weekday, daytime market share of only 6 per cent. In key urban markets it is being swamped by the competition from local commercial stations: both 98FM and FM104 have three times its market share in the capital; in Cork, 96FM County Sound has a weekday, daytime share figure of 54 per cent, compared to Today FM's 7 per cent.

Still, the Today FM numbers represent slow, steady growth for a station with its ambitions mightily trimmed after the Radio Ireland disaster.

Those Today FM numbers highlight the continuing good health of local radio, 21 stations holding their own and then some against heavyweight national competition. Some of the best local broadcasters - Radio Kerry, Radio Kilkenny, WLR - can boast extraordinary "listened yesterday" figures, in the region of 60 per cent. Not many media outlets can claim to reach three out of every five adults in their target areas every day.

The total "listened yesterday" number for local radio, 1.5 million adults, is a half-million higher than that for RTE Radio 1, and twice that for 2FM.

Dublin's local radio battle has an "as you were" look about it, with FM104 and 98FM both unchanged in their "listened-yesterday" figures. However, a closer look at the provocative, controversial and heavily advertised late-night phone-in programmes reveals that, so far, Chris Barry's return on 98FM, after many years on FM104, has failed to pay dividends. His replacement on FM104, Adrian Kennedy, is the sovereign of this dubious kingdom, with three times Barry's listenership.