Badly needing a retune

by John Boland

RTE RADIO One is all talk, and its plans for next year, which are due to be announced on Friday, will ensure that it remains so.There’s nothing wrong with talk, of course, especially on radio, which is a talker’s medium, and it’s certainly preferable to the non-stop barrage of bland playlist pop that’s 2FM’s sole raison d’etre, but too often the talk on Radio One amounts to little more than blather a situation that the new schedules, from what’s been leaked about them, seem unlikely to correct.

At the moment, the listener is offered five consecutive hours of chat in the morning and five more consecutive hours of chat in the afternoon. If you subtract news programmes and the news-based Morning Ireland from that total, you’re still left with more than seven hours of almost ceaseless chatter up to teatime after which chatter largely reigns supreme again, leavened by the odd music show.

At the moment we’re force-fed almost two hours of Pat Kenny five times a week, followed by almost two hours of Des Cahill twice a week and two hours of Gay Byrne three times a week, followed by seventy-five minutes of Marian Finucane five times a week, followed by thirty minutes of Mike Murphy five times a week, followed by an hour of Ronan Collins interleaving his chat with records four times a week and an hour of Maxi doing likewise once a week, followed by an hour of Myles Dungan five times a week.

That’s an awful lot of talking, especially when much of the material consists of soft-centred lifestyle material and interviews with too many people who could bore holes in rocks.

From what’s been learned of the new schedules, that situation will remain largely unchanged. Indeed, tinkering with presenters and times rather than radical revamping appears to be the main characteristic of the changes.

The main change will be the removal of Marian Finucane from Liveline and the giving to her of the morning slot currently occupied by Pat Kenny who, after the departure of Gay Byrne from radio next January, will take up the maestro’s current late-morning slot. This will probably mean the dropping of Des Cahill from that slot, which some listeners (not this one) may lament.

Marian Finucane’s move apparently will also mean that the early-afternoon Liveline will be hosted on a permanent basis by Joe Duffy. This is good news for the latter, though not necessarily for the listener Joe Duffy has been a guest presenter on Liveline in the past and has handled it adequately, but this programme has long been synonymous with Ms. Finucane, who has been an outstanding presenter, both in her mastery of issues and her empathy with callers. Talk radio here was never just blather.

Perhaps she herself wants the move to what’s regarded as the primetime morning slot (Pat Kenny is possibly not overjoyed at being pushed back to later in the morning), but she’s going from a show that she made unmissable for many listeners to a new format in which she’s going to have to prove herself all over again.

It’s a challenge, and if she’s up to it she’ll match or even exceed Pat Kenny’s 460,000 listeners, but it’s a dangerous challenge all the same. Indeed, playing around with the schedules in this way is a perilous thing to do, as it runs the risk of alienating listeners who are accustomed to certain presenters doing certain things and at particular hours of the day. Familiarity on radio very often breeds, not contempt, but content.

STILL, perhaps the very lack of radicalism in the revamp is in RTE’s favour. Look at what’s happened to BBC Radio 4 where wholesale changes have driven listeners away in their thousands since its drastic revamp a few months ago, 640,000 people stopped listening to the station, a frightening drop of almost eight per cent. That’s unlikely to happen in RTE’s case, where the changes border on the timid. Still, one change will be immense, as we all say farewell to Gay. Talk about the end of an era.

Previous post:

Next post: