Friday 23 February 2018

Is anybody there? Not enough for a move to drivetime

Bet you didn't know this column was psychic? A mere two days after we lamented how there's too much sport on radio – while praising, in passing, Newstalk's Off The Ball – the same show was at the centre of a storm.

The entire team, presenters and producers, resigned after an impasse with station management. They wanted to move to an earlier slot, but Newstalk bosses thought that would haemorrhage listeners.

I think the bosses were right, and this proves my point of last week: it's an assumption that a massive appetite for sports radio exists. The numbers simply don't support that.

Off The Ball has an audience of around 40,000; the show preceding it, The Right Hook, has 130,000. Behemoths like Morning Ireland and Liveline sail past 400,000.

No matter how clever, funny and inventive Off The Ball may be, the market for sport simply isn't as big as everyone thinks. If it was, they'd have had 10 times the audience.

Apart from audience share, moving the show to an earlier slot would have, I suspect, further alienated female listeners. Newstalk has a very "blokey" vibe anyway, with almost no women presenters. Putting this mostly male interest to drivetime would have killed any hope of attracting women. Having said that, praise where it's due: the show did (still does, under Ger Gilroy) something unprecedented. Nobody had previously managed to capture that "pals chatting in the pub" vibe on air; and if you're into what's being discussed, it's very entertaining.

As we now know, not that many people are. Off The Ball undoubtedly has a devoted following – but a relatively small one.

Former Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack gave a great interview to John Murray (Radio 1), but don't worry, it wasn't about sport. He and Michael Barron of BeLonG To were promoting Stand Up, a campaign to support young gay people, fight homophobic bullying and so on. Donal Óg, of course, is something of a gay icon now, as one of very few prominent athletes to come out in their prime.

It's funny, he always came across on the pitch as a quite extreme personality. But in conversation he's thoughtful and quietly spoken, with a lot of good sense and common decency.

dmcmanus@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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