Perhaps the latest Joint National Listenership Research survey (JNLR) figures – the snakes and ladders of Irish radio – reveals more about the managers of Irish radio than the presenters who are scored on their listening figures.
Presenters are everything in an industry that doesn’t put much energy – or money, or thought – into other aspects of making radio programmes.
In Irish radio, the verb “change” never means new ideas, it simply means changing presenters.
There’s no shaping of programmes, there’s no editing, no planning beyond who’s going to present the programmes we listen to – or don’t listen to.
So when RTÉ 2FM manager Dan Healy said the changes at the station were “completely justified”, that’s what he was talking about.
The presenter is the only thing that carries the programme. When that simple arrangement goes wrong, it goes very wrong indeed, and the people in management don’t handle forced departures well.
For example, after working for 2FM for 11 years, presenter Louise McSharry was let go last October without, as she said herself, a chance to say goodbye to her listeners.
She wasn’t the first presenter to be treated this way, but let’s hope she was the last.
Good management means treating staff and audiences properly. If you don’t respect the relationship between those two, you’re throwing away a lot of emotional capital.
In such an intimate medium as radio, and in the global media marketplace that operates in contemporary Ireland, throwing away emotional capital isn’t a very wise thing to do.
Louise McSharry was replaced on the weekend programme by Laura Fox, and the audience figures for that slot have gone up, by 8,000 on Saturday and 11,000 on Sunday. So well done, Laura Fox – but Louise McSharry was right to protest the manner of her leaving.
RTÉ2 FM has just 5.8pc of market share. With such a small audience and such a management style, is it worth anybody’s tears?
The JNLR survey is conducted over 12 months, and while it’s always good to be reminded that those conjoined radio twins, Newstalk and Today FM, are both owned by German media group Bauer, it’s pretty simple.
So, Ian Dempsey on TodayFM has gained 15,000 listeners for his breakfast show during that time.
He deserves it. He’s on air an extra hour each day, since the programme was extended, and now broadcasts to 201,000 people each morning – a very healthy figure indeed.
But Ray D’Arcy is languish- ing in the mid-afternoon with his lowest figures since his programme started, and there’s no discernible help in sight.
And so on and on.
Irish radio presenters are horribly exposed; that’s why the more successful ones are paid so much money.
Pat Kenny – another marathon man, with three hours live in the studio – Ryan Tubridy and Claire Byrne are all doing nicely.
But there are smaller fish in this crowded pond, and it’s sad to see someone as smart and talented as Jennifer Zamparelli lose listeners – even if it is only 3,000 listeners. Can this small figure really count against her?
It’s relatively easy to make news programmes, which pretty much write themselves. It’s difficult to make programmes that exist outside that protective news agenda, many of which sound as if the staff forgot to work on them at all.
The interpretation of the JNLR figures is so concentrated on the presenters that other factors barely feature.
For example, breakfast shows on most stations did well.
Newstalk Breakfast gained 9,000 listeners and now has its highest audience in six years. And Morning Ireland has gained 23,000 listeners. RTÉ 2FM’s The Breakfast Show is a big success.
Could this morning renaissance have anything to do with the fact that over the past year so many people have returned to what used to be the normal working day and the normal school day?
And could the slump in the mid-afternoon slots of Ray D’Arcy and the excellent Liveline have something to do with that as well?
Or is that slump in those two mid-afternoon shows something to do with Sean Moncrieff, who broadcasts a tight and clever programme on Newstalk every weekday between 2pm and 4pm?