FRANK KHAN RTE management are fearful this weekend that if one of their top Radio One presenters were to be poached by Newstalk106 it could spark a mass exodus of top producers to the rival station.
According to sources at Montrose, which is reeling this weekend after wide-ranging changes among broadcasting and editorial personnel, "everyone is waiting for a presenter to go". And they say approaches to a top star have already been made by Newstalk, which is going nationwide this September, posinga major challenge to thenational broadcaster.
The latest shake-up in RTE Radio, involving between 50 and 60 staff, sent shock waves through the station on Thursday and Friday when thosebeing moved were told of the changes "on the telephone by line managers".
But the decisions for the dramatic shake-up which has hit top programmes such as the Pat Kenny Show, Marian Finucane Show, Liveline and the Ryan Tubridy Show were taken by Managing Director of Radio, Adrian Moynes, and the new radio chief, Ana Leddy.
The latest changes come less than a month after Ms Leddy reshaped the Radio One schedule, controversially axing the arts programme Rattlebag and John Kelly's Mystery Train while relegating John Creedon to a late-night spot.
Ms Leddy joined RTE from BBC Radio Foyle less than five months ago and has quickly set about the shake-up which sources say has sent morale plummeting.
Worst hit by this week's changes was the Tubridy Show which has lost its entire backroom staff while the other programmes have had their staff of reporters andresearchers moved to other areas.
Among them was Tubridy's roving reporter Katriona McFadden - who is moving to the Dave Fanning Show .
Worried presenters will now find their shows short-handed even as they gear up to face what is expected to be aggressive Newstalk106 competition.
The latest changes come only days after RTE released the pay of its top flight presenters. They show Pat Kenny's wages have soared to close to the million euro mark. He earned ?899,000 for 2004, almost twice as much as the next highest paid, 2FM presenter Gerry Ryan who earned ?487,492. All told, the station's top 10 highest-paid presenters raked in almost ?3.3m between them during 2004; Marian Finucane earned ?439,265, while Prime Time 's Miriam O'Callaghan was paid ?251,251.
And the figures do not include additional money the broadcasters earn from private engagements. Meanwhile in a Sunday Independent telephone poll yesterday 88 per cent of respondents did not agree Pat Kenny was worth ?1m a year.
Last night RTE Radio was said to be "in turmoil" over the latest changes. One top RTE star told the Sunday Independent : "There were lot of tears here on Friday. We have a Starbucks outlet in the building here and there were a lot of double espressos drunk after the shock news came though."
The source added: "People were just told they were being taken off a programme and there is apparently no recourse. They've been scattered to the four winds."
It is believed some of those affected approached Ms Leddy and complained but got no joy. What is particularly baffling to those involved in the top daily shows is why they have been singled out for the cull.
Said a source: "The 9am to 6pm programmes fund the station. And their producers, many of them women, are regarded as the real workhorses in this place."
Many have gone on holiday this weekend not knowing what jobs they will be allocated to on their return.
There was speculation that Eamon Keane would take over as producer of the Ryan Tubridy Show . He is understood to have been offered the position but turned it down. Keane has been presenting the popular Round Midnight programme.
Last night Seamus Dooley, the Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said: "We have been disturbed at RTE's lack of consultation with the RTE Group of Unions. Changes could have been handled more sensitively and we have requested a meeting with Ms Leddy which is expected to take place in the next two weeks."