He is RTE's biggest competition in the battle for audience share. And this week it was a case of 'the one that got away' as Ray D'Arcy unseated RTE's golden boy Ryan Tubridy as the king of the mid-morning airwaves.
Following the latest Joint National Listenership (JNLR) figures, Today FM has revealed how RTE bosses tried to poach their biggest presenter to work for them.
Before Ryan Tubridy was even considered to fill the gaping hole left by Gerry Ryan's tragic death, Ray d'Arcy was the man who's door RTE knocked upon.
In a desperate bid to woo the 45-year-old, RTE Radio bosses Clare Duignan and John McMahon called to the Today FM presenter's home to launch a charm offensive and bring him back to the State broadcaster. They advised him "You've had your fun in independent radio -- now it's time to come back to the mothership".
But it backfired spectacularly when Today FM owner Denis O'Brien and station boss Willie O' Reilly met the star in the days following the approach. Last week, as D'Arcy celebrated his success in the ratings war, Mr O'Reilly explained: "Ray doesn't want to go to RTE. He had the opportunity and he didn't go. He turned them down after Gerry passed away.
"There was never any money discussed when we met Ray afterwards. We just laid out our commitment over the next 10 years and he was happy to stay.
"It's a simpler organisation here with direct access to management. And Ray feels empowered by what he does at the station."
Speaking about the latest figures, Mr O'Reilly explained: "Ray is very much in touch with the public, he is passionate about what's happening to the country, he is comfortable with his fame and yet he still manages to maintain his man-next-door image. He's doing a brilliant job. The figures speak for themselves." He added: "This is Ryan's debut so the latest report will give an indication but it is a marathon, not a sprint. He'll have new figures out every three months now -- it will be relentless."
Meanwhile, radio insiders have revealed how Tubridy has a long way to go until RTE bosses are fully satisfied with his big move to younger station 2fm.
"Moving station is always a very difficult thing. They can't presume audiences will travel with a presenter; they're loyal to the station as well as the presenter. It will be some comfort that Ryan has over 200,000 listeners but he still has a mountain to climb," said one source. "Gerry was an outstanding talent, he was a 19-year-old boy trapped in the body of a 50-year-old man. He loved upsetting the establishment. Ryan is different. He has a different set of skills on the positive side but he also doesn't have that same sense of fun. He is an old fogey at heart.
"Still there's no going back now. To go back again would seem careless," said the source. "RTE is in it for the long haul. They'll look at the show, get focus groups in and research and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. I'll put it this way -- don't be surprised if you see Ryan in the papers in a t-shirt and jeans in the coming weeks."
Tubridy has 216,000 listeners on his two-hour programme on 2fm but D'Arcy has 3,000 more. RTE chiefs claimed D'Arcy's figures, released in the latest JNLR survey, are bigger because the Today FM show is an hour longer. But the figures also reveal that the 296,000 2fm listeners who regularly tuned in to its flagship Gerry Ryan show prior to the broadcaster's death last year have not embraced his much-touted replacement with the same degree of loyalty.
The show had already lost 24,000 listeners in the October 2009-September 2010 survey, which took into account some of the transition period after Ryan's death from a cocaine-induced heart attack on April 30 last.
Tubridy has promised to improve his show. "You can read about the figures in every paper today and I can pretty much assure you that every paper has a different tale to tell," he told his listeners. Then he asked his crew members: "How old are we Alice? How old are we? Are we six months? Five-and- a-half months old? So what I would say is just give us a chance -- we'll get there in the end."