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Radio boss has no regrets over RTE cull


‘YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH THE NUMBERS’: Departing RTE Radio 1 boss Ana Leddy

‘YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH THE NUMBERS’: Departing RTE Radio 1 boss Ana Leddy

‘YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH THE NUMBERS’: Departing RTE Radio 1 boss Ana Leddy

SHE came into RTE Radio 1 as an unknown and unleashed a series of moves that left blood on the carpet and a lot of bruised egos around the corridors of Montrose.

Now, five years later, Ana Leddy is moving on without any regrets.

"I turned this station around from the point where it was considered in terminal decline. I have done that and my record stands for itself," she says. A few hours earlier, she had announced that she was leaving her management position to go back to work as a radio producer for RTE.

"I want to contribute to radio in a different way, somewhere that is fresh and exciting," says the mother of three grown-up sons. "I wouldn't want anyone to think that this job hasn't been fun. It was a really interesting challenge and fun, and I am not ruling out working in management again. I feel that I really want to re-connect with the creative part of me," she says.

Leddy's assault on the radio schedules in 2006 left people such as Myles Dungan, John Kelly and John Creedon reeling. She extended Liveline and Five Seven Live to give more time to Joe Duffy and Mary Wilson, and she has brought Derek Mooney, and latterly John Murray, into the radio heartland.

She also says that until she brought in Marian Finucane, Eamon Dunphy and Miriam O'Callaghan, weekend radio was "a dead zone" which has now been transformed, with audiences and strong advertising revenues that weren't there before.

For someone with a fearsome reputation, she has a ready smile -- and when it comes to the politics of Montrose, an unexpected line in diplomacy.

On the salaries of the 'stars' and the reshuffle which a new Director General will bring, she says with quiet finality: "I will defer to Claire Duignan on that."

Duignan, managing director of radio, has already said that the huge salaries of Pat Kenny and Ryan Turbridy are unsustainable in the current economic climate, although nothing will change until their contracts come up for renewal.

But Ana Leddy is adamant that without the big names that grace the radio schedules, the station would not have the audience share it has. Her target audience is "grown up", mature adults and while she tried to increase that, she wasn't in the business of chasing teenagers.

Born into an Irish family of eight in Sheffield, England, she was brought up an Irish speaker and educated at the St Louis Convent in Monaghan and Trinity College Dublin. She worked in the BBC, and 26 years later, came back to Dublin by way of Radio Foyle in Derry.

She says when she arrived in Radio 1, people felt it was a station "in terminal decline" with new stations mushrooming around the country and the audience fragmenting. She saw her job as simply to stop the rot and spent the first few months listening to the radio and combing through audience figures and advertising revenues.

When she acted, it was a shock to many people working in the station. "It isn't possible to introduce change without upsetting people," she says, sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. "You have to be prepared to take decisions, you're not paid to be high on the popularity stakes. But I never deliberately set out to upset people, but it is difficult and the manner in which the news is delivered is difficult to coordinate . . . it can appear to be blunt."

Her children are now grown up, and for Ana Leddy life is beginning as an "empty nester" with her youngest, a 20-year-old son, moving away to college in Galway. She had been thinking for some time about a change in direction when her contract expires in about six months' time.

The other side to Ana Leddy is playing guitar and singing with her band, The Cosmic Banditos.

"It's country roots and American stuff, we do it for fun. My sister lives in Sligo and we all have families who play music, we always played, so we go around to festivals and things like that."

As she prepares for her departure, Leddy is conscious of what she is leaving behind. A glance at a chart of the audience share from Tubridy, Pat Kenny, Liveline, Playback, The Business, Marian Finucane and Miriam Meets tells its own tale. Overall, Radio 1 has 23 per cent of the total radio audience.

"You can't argue with the numbers," says Leddy.

Sunday Independent