The last shall be first as Today FM lures 50,000 more drivetime listeners
THE country's drivetime radio war is being won by an independent station for the first time.
As the big tune-out from RTE Radio continues, new figures show Today FM's 'The Last Word' gained 50,000 listeners last year, making it the most popular national drivetime show.
The figures show that the weekday popularity of the biggest radio names at Montrose - with the exception of Joe Duffy - fell once again in 2006.
Pat Kenny, Ryan Tubridy, Gerry Ryan and Marty Whelan lost thousands of listeners during the year, while flagship shows such as 'Morning Ireland' and '5-7 Live' also fell back.
The figures will make grim reading for Radio 1 chief Ana Leddy, who wielded the axe on a host of Montrose stars in the past six months.
However, RTE's decline is relative: Radio One and 2fm broadcast each of the top 10 national radio programmes, while some of the station's newer weekend shows - notably Marian Finucane's and Eamon Dunphy's - are pulling in huge ratings.
The winners are, once again, among rival commercial stations, the latest Joint National Listenership Survey figures show.
Newstalk said George Hook is more popular in Dublin than 'The Last Word'. National Newstalk figures are not yet available.
The breakfast slot remains just as competitive. Despite losing 32,000 listeners, 'Morning Ireland' is still the most-listened to show with 442,000 listeners.
However, Ian Dempsey on Today FM gained listeners (to 236,000), going further ahead of 2fm's Marty Whelan (down to 175,000).
Under a re-scheduling at 2fm aimed at securing younger listeners, Whelan is leaving next month.
His replacements come from FM104's 'Strawberry Alarm Clock', which had 107,000 listeners in Dublin alone last year.
2fm shock-jock Gerry Ryan remains the biggest draw on the station, despite losing 15,000 listeners last year. Figures for the last three months showed that he has started to claw back his audience to 316,000.
Over on Radio One in the mornings, Ryan Tubridy has also lost 15,000 (to 324,000) while Pat Kenny is down 25,000 (to 268,000). Today FM's Ray D'Arcy has picked up 21,000 (to 244,000) to close the gap on Ryan.
There was better news for RTE at the weekends, where Marion Finucane is now reaching almost 300,000 people on Saturdays, while Eamon Dunphy's new show immediately clocked up 248,000 listeners.
In terms of market share, RTE Radio One, at 20.9pc, and 2fm, at 12.9pc, both recorded a slight slippage while Today FM (12.1pc) and Lyric (1.7pc) both had small gains. Local radio decreased slightly - to 51pc - but continues to dominate, with Donegal's Highland Radio having a reach of 69pc.
In the highly-competitive Dublin market, Newstalk saw the largest increase in market share.
98 FM also saw an increase to take its position at the top of the pile, while the remaining local stations saw small decreases in their listenership share.