Tuesday 12 December 2017

'I'm not worth my €290k RTE salary' - Radio host Sean O'Rourke speaks candidly about wages

Sean O'Rourke talks to Niamh Horan about being an RTE top earner

POPULAR: Radio host Sean O’Rourke celebrated a 23,000 increase in listeners to his RTE show
POPULAR: Radio host Sean O’Rourke celebrated a 23,000 increase in listeners to his RTE show
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

He's one of RTE's biggest earners, taking in a whopping €290,000 per year, but Sean O'Rourke doesn't believe he's worth it.

The broadcaster, who took over from Pat Kenny in 2013, says he is "really grateful" for what RTE are paying him, but he says "of course I am not worth it".

The veteran host emerged among the top five highest earners in 2014 when the salary league table was published in recent weeks.

This weekend, as he celebrates a year-on-year increase of 23,000 listeners, he told the Sunday Independent that he puts his earnings simply down to "good fortune".

He said: "It's not forever. It's one of those things. I didn't look for it. It came my way. I always took the view that I would take whatever RTE gives me. And I am very grateful for that."

He was also keen to point out that RTE had cut the pay packet since Pat was in the job: "It's a huge amount of money, but it's a fraction of what my predecessor was paid. RTE set out to reduce salaries by at least 30pc and they have kept their promise."

Asked how it felt to earn more than Taoiseach Enda Kenny (€185k) and Angela Merkel (€216k), he replied: "Well now, I didn't know that."

"You are not making a fair comparison because that amount of money, a huge chunk of that, is going into my pension provision, and I have to fund that out of that money.

"So put it like this: if I was a public servant, the kind of pension I can look forward to… is [that of] somebody who was not even a top-ranking civil servant, because theirs is guaranteed and mine isn't.

"So it's not as simple as 'I'm paid more than Enda Kenny or Angela Merkel.' That's completely simplistic, genuinely it is."

The presenter, who has won over listeners on his prime daytime slot, said he also turned down the opportunity to work for rivals Newstalk.

"There are places in the private stations where I could have gone, where I nearly went at one stage, earning a lot more than that," he said.

"It was about 10 years ago. It was when Newstalk was going national and I looked very seriously at the idea."

O'Rourke, whose three-year contract is up for renewal this summer, says both he and RTE are starting to talk: "I think I have had enough fun and RTE have had enough listeners for us both to want this to continue."

Asked if he would seek a pay rise he said: "I will do what I have always done. I will take what I'm given if I am staying there."

However, he said he also hoped that the days of pay cuts are over.

The presenter, who is back in the chair tomorrow, says the job is all-consuming and that he has to make a conscious effort to put aside some quality time with his wife Caroline, with whom he has six children.

"You can't [really leave it at work] you have to watch the nine o'clock news, you have to watch Six One, you have to know what's going on on Morning Ireland, the weekend programmes," he said.

"But when we are having family meals I think I could count on one hand the number of times in the last six months where the telly has been on during a meal. We would be careful about that. We probably try to time them so that they don't clash."

Speaking about his time at the helm of some of the nation's biggest news and current affairs shows, he named Michael McDowell, Pat Rabbitte and Brian Cowen as his most difficult interviewees.

"To borrow a phrase, these guys would slit your throat in church and laugh on the way out," he said.

And he added that a big change he has noted in political interviews is that "some of the handlers and advisors have [become] a bit more aggressive."

"They would have been inclined to ring up programmes and vent their anger and ring up station bosses," he explained.

Asked if they would ring him, the programme boss or the head of RTE, he answered: "Any and all of the above."

He also said that he believes that attempts to steer how the station deals with its news, current affairs and political interviews is down to "nervousness".

"The stakes are very high. These people's lives are on the line, their careers are on the line. They pay a high price in terms of their personal lives and they get a lot of abuse."

He added: "I was listening to Leo Varadkar [saying] the children's hospital phone call was the best phone call he ever got in politics.

"What was interesting about that is they don't get thanked when they manage to achieve something... I'm sure James Reilly took a certain amount of satisfaction, but what thanks did he get? He lost his seat.

"Leo gets to enjoy the phone call as the minister - 'We got the thing through' - but Reilly is the guy who drove it."

Sunday Independent

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