RTÉ radio suffers decline as rivals attract listeners

RTÉ is failing in its attempt to halt a major slide in radio listeners while its main rivals Today FM and Newstalk 106 continue to increase their audiences.

The latest Joint National Listenership Research results show that the national broadcaster is continuing to haemorrhage listeners at the apparent expense of both national, regional and local independent stations.

The JNLR figures show RTÉ’s two main stations, Radio One and 2FM have failed to halt a downward trend in audience figures over the past number of years.

The statistics, which cover October 2005 to September 2006, now provide comparisons on both an annual and three-month basis with the latter showing more minor fluctuations in listenership figures.

RTÉ will be hoping its new autumn radio schedule, which controversially saw some popular presenters and programmes being axed or moved to other broadcast times, will reverse the continuing loss of listeners.

Although the latest JNLR figures do not yet show the likely effect of the schedule changes, most of RTÉ’s top broadcasters are continuing to suffer a fall-off in listeners. Popular presenters like Ryan Tubridy, Pat Kenny and Joe Duffy all experienced a further decline in audiences — even over the shorter three-month period.

A big loser was 5-7 Live, renamed Drivetime, where Mary Wilson replaced Rachel English as presenter — with a loss of 13,000 listeners over the past three months to 191,000.

A gap of just 8,000 listeners now separates the show from its main rival, The Last Word with Matt Cooper on Today FM. Cooper saw his average audience increase by 22% over the past year to 183,000 — although the figure has been assisted by an extended half-hour broadcast which The Last Word added on over the period.

Tonight with Vincent Browne has seen a dramatic reduction in listeners, with just 21,000 tuning in, compared to 30,000 just three months ago and an audience reduction of over 47% on a year ago.

Even the country’s most popular radio programme, Morning Ireland, with an average audience of 442,000, has seen its listenership decline by almost 8% over the past 12 months.

Similar trends were experienced by Radio One’s sister station, 2FM, where two of its most popular presenters, Marty Whelan and Gerry Ryan, both suffered significant audience losses. Whelan has lost 19,000 listeners in the past three months, while Ryan is down 10,000 to an average audience of 310,000.

In contrast, both Today FM and Newstalk 106 increased audiences overall.

Today FM’s Breakfast Show with Ian Dempsey gained 21,000 listeners to climb to 228,000 — the same audience size as his colleague, Ray D’Arcy, who experienced an annual increase of 2,000 but an audience decline of 7,000 compared to three months ago.

Although the latest JNLR figures do not indicate how Newstalk 106 has been performing since it started broadcasting on a national basis last month, they do highlight how the station has continued to grow audiences in Dublin.

Local radio stations continue to perform strongly, with Highland Radio in Donegal and Limerick’s Live 95FM among the most popular in their own region.

In the highly competitive Dublin market, FM104 held its place as the market leader, although its rivals, 98FM and Spin 103.8 also gained market share.

In Cork, both 96FM/County Sound and Red FM recorded little change with their respective market shares at 52% and 9%.

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