RYAN Tubridy is returning to the BBC this Christmas, fuelling speculation he is contemplating a permanent move away from RTE.
The 37-year-old has agreed to sacrifice his Christmas holidays and will also miss out on some family time with his two daughters Ella (12) and Julia (7). It is not known how much he is being paid to take over a radio slot that commands an audience of six million.
Despite haemorrhaging a third of listeners from his 2fm show in the past year, Mr Tubridy enjoyed impressive ratings when he filled in for Graham Norton this summer.
Now bosses at the Beeb have asked him to take over a more high-profile weekday slot on Radio 2 from presenter Ken Bruce from Tuesday December 27 to Friday December 30 -- a clear indication they may be considering offering him a full-time role.
Compared with Mr Norton's radio show, which has 3.27 million listeners, Mr Bruce's show attracts over six million listeners. Sources say that the invitation from the BBC is a direct result of figures which revealed that audience figures for Mr Norton's BBC Radio 2 Saturday morning programme held up well during the run of Saturdays from July 23 to September 10, when Mr Tubridy provided holiday cover for the Corkman.
A BBC spokesperson last night said: "This is great news and a great result for both Graham and Ryan."
Mr Tubridy will be on holidays from both his RTE radio and television duties during his stint with the BBC. The last edition of 'The Late Late Show' before Christmas is on Friday, December 23 and it returns to the screens on the first Friday in January.
The invitation and rising interest in Mr Tubridy from the BBC comes after it was announced the RTE presenter had suffered an 87,000 drop in listeners to his 2fm morning show during the past year.
It now has an audience of 175,000, down on the 262,000 who tuned into the late Gerry Ryan.
Last night, Mr Tubridy told the Irish Independent he "wasn't surprised" by the figures, which he said were recorded before an overhaul of the 2fm programme by new producer Paul Russell.
"I am not going to pretend that things didn't need to be fixed. They did, and they are," he said.
"The sound and nature of the programme has utterly changed, so has the direction. We're more a listener-lead programme now with more listeners on air talking to me, and with me. These figures don't reflect all the changes that have been made."
The star admitted one of his biggest difficulties had been trying to hold the audience of his close friend and late colleague Gerry Ryan.
"Gerry will always cast a long shadow. I think people must understand I'm doing a two-hour radio show, which was a three-hour radio show presented by the biggest personality in this island for the past 25 years. Gerry had a very loyal audience," he said.
But the Blackrock man said he has the full backing of bosses in RTE.
"I have 100pc commitment from management and the dogged support from all my colleagues throughout RTE. We will continue to make these changes. If these changes don't work, that's for another day, but for today, we live to fight another day," he said.
And despite the drop in radio listenership, Mr Tubridy's 'Late Late Show' increased its audience by nearly 100,000 viewers last Friday night to 670,000 viewers.
In the light of a pledge by RTE Director General Noel Curran to cut the wages of top RTE star earners by 30pc by 2013, Mr Tubridy again said he would accept a cut.
Mr Tubridy earned €533,333 in 2008, but since then, he has taken up presenting RTE's flagship 'The Late Late Show'.
"These (presenters' fees) were being handed out willy nilly at the time when I came into the organisation," said Mr Tubridy, who first made his name at the station in the summer of 1999 presenting the show 'Morning Glory' on RTE Radio 1.
"At the time, that was the culture, but that culture has changed. I speak to people every day on the radio who are going through the horrors, whether losing their jobs in Aviva, or being kicked out of apartments in Priory Hall. I know what's going on in the country, I know what's needed and the commitment from people like me to take a reduction in salaries," he added.