Ad row makes waves as rivals lash RTE's 'unfair advantage'
National broadcaster sees biggest increase in listenership
A ROW over advertising dominated the quarterly radio listenership figures last night, with RTE and independent broadcasters locked in a war of words.
The latest figures, covering the 12 months to December 2008, showed the biggest gains for RTE Radio 1.
While numbers tuning into big-name stars like Pat Kenny and Joe Duffy usually dominate the agenda, yesterday it was the issue of RTE radio airing free adverts on RTE television.
Rival Today FM chief executive Willie O'Reilly said that the RTE gains were "not unrelated to their massive marketing effort".
Mr O'Reilly, who is also head of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, slammed RTE's "unfair competitive advantage".
Radio 1 boss Ana Leddy, however, flatly rejected the suggestion that marketing was the driving force behind her station's improved ratings.
"Marketing and communications are important, however, what is crucial is that when listeners tune into RTÉ Radio 1, they are engaged.
"They stay listening and they keep coming back to the station," she added.
Sources also linked the Radio 1 performance to the deepening recession, with Ms Leddy pointing out that RTE Radio provides "unparalleled analysis and interpretation" of the issues of the day.
But Aidan Greene, head of media agency MediaVest, said it was far too early for the recession to be giving Radio 1's figures any uplift.
"The figures are only to the end of December and people only really got interested in the recession quite recently," he added.
The figures also sparked a battle between Today FM and 2fm, as the commercial station claimed to have finally closed the gap with 2fm "after many years chasing coattails".
Both stations now have a daily listenership of 16pc of all adults.
"It's really important for us, we're delighted," said Mr O'Reilly.
Responding to queries about the narrowing of the gap, 2fm boss John Clarke said his station was "performing strongly" and "attracts large numbers of listeners amongst its defined 15- to 34-year-old target audience".
The listenership figures for radio's leading lights, meanwhile, showed relatively static activity.
The biggest winners included Eamon Keane's Newstalk show which gained 6,000 listeners and now has an audience of 59,000, Radio 1's 'Liveline' which gained 14,000 and now has 392,000.
Radio 1's 'Drivetime' rose 11,000 to 240,000, and Sean O'Rourke's 'News at One on Radio ' rose 13,000 to 335,000.
Marginal drops, meanwhile, included Ian Dempsey's 'Today FM Breakfast Show', which dropped 1,000 to 233,000 and Radio 1's 'Tubridy Show', which dropped 1,000 to 315,000.
Overall, the number of people tuning into the radio on a daily basis remained unchanged at 85pc.
The survey also showed local radio stations taking some share from the nationals. Particularly successful locals included Donegal's Highland Radio, which retains its title as Ireland's most listened to regional and Spin 103.8 which grew its Dublin market share to 7pc.