Are audiences getting tired of news radio? Latest JNLR figures would suggest so, with RTÉ Radio 1 suffering losses across every flagship show, almost all of which are driven by current affairs.
At the independents the story is similar, though not exactly the same: Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show dropped listeners too, while Breakfast recorded a small gain.
Over on Today FM, The Last Word saw a slightly larger increase, possibly due in part to the “rising tide lifts all boats” effect of a station-wide surge.
The big winners in these latest figures, though, were non-news programmes: the likes of Jennifer Zamparelli and the Breakfast Show on 2FM, and Ian Dempsey, Pamela Joyce and Dermot & Dave on Today FM.
You’ll notice the common denominator: they’re all light, fun and breezy, with a studious and welcome avoidance of hard news.
They’re entertainment – which is, it appears, what listeners increasingly want these days.
And who could blame them? The endless doom-chant of bad news after worse news is emotionally gruelling to listen to, especially early in the morning.
Attempting to explain his station’s JNLR woes, Head of RTÉ Radio 1 Peter Woods pointed to “dissatisfaction with news in general”. This is true, but doesn’t fully explain the situation. Yes, research shows the public doesn’t trust what they hear as much as before; but a larger factor, I think, is that we’re just sick of it all.
There’s also a natural boomerang effect: the cause-and-reaction which invariably happens in every field of life. We turn towards something and then, sooner or later, turn away – often for no specific, or at least clearly identifiable, reason.
During Covid, as Woods pointed out (as did The Last Word’s Matt Cooper), people tuned into news radio more than before. But that was only ever going to be temporary; it was an artificial bounce.
During those depressing days, it felt imperative for many people to know what was going on, all the time. If nothing else, current affairs radio kept you up-to-date on the bewildering whirl of fresh regulations which would have an immediate and concrete effect on your life.
That’s over now. People don’t need to know everything that’s happening, everywhere, all the time, and are drifting away. And, as mentioned, so much news is so appalling it’s almost masochism to voluntarily submit to it for long periods.
Plus, final point: the mind reaches a sort of saturation point after long enough, of dread, panic, worry. Eventually, you just stop caring. You look for distraction, laughs and levity instead.
All that said, RTÉ Radio 1’s figures remain enormously high, considering the size of this country. Their biggest-hitters still bring in twice as many listeners as rivals. Despite losses, Morning Ireland currently stands at 433,000; Ryan Tubridy at 331,000; Claire Byrne 321,000; News At One and Liveline both 310,000. (Brendan O’Connor’s magazine show, incidentally, continues to do big numbers, averaging 333,000 across Saturday and Sunday.)
It’s astonishing when you think about it: one in every 11 people, of all ages and demographics, regularly listen to Morning Ireland. It shows the immense hold RTÉ, and RTÉ Radio 1 in particular, continue to exert on the nation, some 60 years after Éamon de Valera launched the state broadcaster.
Is this hegemony a good thing? Probably not, for various reasons of democratic and sociocultural vigour and dynamism, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Sister station 2FM can consider the JNLRs a qualified triumph: The Breakfast Show’s likeable, lively trio of Doireann Garrihy, Donncha O’Callaghan and Carl Mullan are clearly striking a chord, jumping 5,000 to 129,000. Zamparelli is holding steady in mid-afternoon, rising slightly to 134,000. Even Tracy Clifford and The 2 Johnnies, who posted slight losses, have decent audiences of 116,000 and 119,000.
Pat Kenny remains brand-leader at Newstalk, with 174,000, followed by The Hard Shoulder (159,000) and Breakfast (152,000), which both increased their share a little. Moncrieff jumped too, up 6,000 to 96,000: though that’s still disappointingly low, for what in my opinion is one of the best shows in the country.
Probably happiest with these JNLRs are the folks at Today FM: the only station to increase listenership across all its shows. Ian Dempsey is up 4,000 to an impressive 203,000 in the fiercely competitive early-morning slot; Dermot & Dave is now their biggest draw, shooting up by a whopping 9,000 to 207,000. Ray Foley, meanwhile, only back at Today FM a metaphorical wet week – he rejoined last February – recorded a healthy 160,000 listeners.
It’s mildly ironic – though maybe not – that Today FM began life as Radio Ireland, a news- and talk-heavy station which wobbled alarmingly in its formative years before rejigging with more music and craic, less doom and gloom. Surprise, surprise, it’s worked brilliantly; the station now holds a secure place in the Irish radio landscape.
Commenting on the JNLR results, Dermot and/or Dave said they didn’t take themselves too seriously but are “serious about keeping our audience happy”. There’s a lot to be said for it.