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Tuning in for a change

NEWSTALK'S securing of rights to broadcast Heineken Cup games was a major coup for the station, but with the GAA still to announce its next rights packages for radio and television, a bigger coup may still be around the corner.

And if Croke Park had any lingering doubts -- although it's hard to imagine they could have given the quality of sports broadcasting on Newstalk -- about the merits of giving the station a slice of its championship pie, last week's listenership figures should have helped quell them.

The figures for the three months to the end of September confirm that Newstalk as a station -- and particularly its sport output over the summer -- continues to win the approval of audiences.

On first viewing, the raw statistics do not appear noteworthy but digging into them a little is revealing. For instance, Ger Gilroy's Saturday afternoon sports show has 79,000 listeners, compared to Radio 1's 187,000 (Today FM's Premiership programme has 161,000) which on the face of it isn't a lot to shout about but the truth is that, apart from the fact that Gilroy's is a new show, his audience has increased by 20 per cent. And, furthermore, in two key age brackets, Newstalk is ahead of RTE in one (15-34), and level in the other (15-44).

The weekday figures also tell a tale. The multi-award-winning programme Off The Ball is the one Newstalk show which wins its time slot nationally in a straight head to head with the other stations. Radio 1 offer token resistance in the form of Sport at 7, but there are 19,500 people listening every 15 minutes to Off The Ball over its three hours, compared to 17,830 to Radio 1 over the same time.

All of which points to the fact that Newstalk now has the expertise and the audience to merit an extension of its rights portfolios -- and presuming its bid is a fair and reasonable one -- there is no reason for the GAA not to spread its wings.


Sunday Independent