Shock, horror: I don’t mind paying the TV license fee. I believe in public broadcasting. And having worked for commercial networks where production costs are cut to the bone, you won’t catch me encouraging races to the bottom.
Six years ago I hosted a Saturday morning show on Newstalk. Guests were either not paid or received a cover charge. I was so grateful to them for showing up anyway that I took them out for breakfast afterwards. A show needs its guests, no matter how willing broadcasters are to suggest that guests need a show.
When it comes to RTÉ, I adore LyricFM, never listen to 2FM, watch almost no TV and only tune in to Radio 1 occasionally. Podcasts are my main listening choice (which I pay for). But these grouchy personal habits don’t mean I would punish RTÉ.
The conversations that Joe Duffy moderated about menopause and the transgender issue were groundbreaking. I’ll write the check for that alone.
Still, there are oddities with the hybrid model of RTÉ’s funding, some of which were addressed in the Future of Media Commission report released this week. Financially strong media is essential and I wouldn’t mind putting a surcharge on the electricity bill to ensure this.
The problem is that RTÉ depends equally on the license fee and commercial revenue. If the fee is reduced, RTÉ will have to earn more advertising in an already competitive market.
Above all, the music stations have to seethe about 2FM, which clearly has no public service mandate. But it makes money. I was told that 2FM contributes about 1 million euros a year to the news service RTÉ, so the income will have to be replaced if 2FM is canceled.
If commercial broadcasters are helped either by cutting license fees or by killing 2FM, the return is more transparency. I can’t see any enthusiasm for the publication of the salaries of the private broadcasters. So everything becomes chaotic.
In the meantime, there’s the thorny question of salaries. The argument that “stars” are paid high salaries when they have nowhere else to go is untenable.
It’s been nine years since Pat Kenny left RTÉ and was immediately and successfully replaced by Sean O’Rourke, who gained an even larger audience in the same slot.
I admire Kenny’s professionalism, enthusiasm and work ethic immensely, but boy did he need it. Instead of taking his 330,000 listeners from Radio 1 in 2012, it was slow, hard work at Newstalk. By 2015, he had just over 130,000 listeners. He hit 150,000 in 2018 and last year, most successfully, 180,000.
Meanwhile, back on Radio 1, Sean had 354,000 listeners by 2017.
This proves that durability and consistency count for more than a brand name. A great producer, lots of airtime and lots of publicity can turn most talent into a star.
The strangest thing about RTÉ salaries is the inconsistency. Ray D’Arcy earns €450,000 for a mediocre magazine show that consumes two hours a day.
Claire Byrne hosts a high quality current affairs program and, until recently, the Monday night television program. But she paid less than half, at 220,000 euros.
Meanwhile, according to the latest published numbers I can find, science correspondent George Lee is at $200,000. That’s only 40 grand less than Claire. How these numbers come about is not published.
However, the focus on salaries is somewhat of a distraction. A far bigger problem is the impact of the programming on the public. I will limit my comments to Radio 1 as I know it best.
Beyond the schedule there are super programs – for example nationwide, Doc on one and The History Show.
But I almost gave up on prime-time programming.
First, I can’t stand the snarky, condescending tone interviewers use towards politicians and public sector spokespeople, especially on shows like Tomorrow Ireland.
Accountability is one thing; Rudeness is another. The reviews are great so I’m in a quirky minority.
But as our neighbors to the east and west had to learn at their own expense, the center cannot be taken for granted. The Colosseum in Rome also had a good audience, but that didn’t end well.
The second problem is the superficial analysis. The show formats condense complex issues into polarized debates lasting just a few minutes.
You can get 12 minutes on a subject or an interview with victims of human interest, but no thoughtful format examines cause and effect or makes room for an alternative narrative.
The result is a distortion and simplified identification of good and bad.
On my Newstalk show, I spent almost an hour discussing a topic with experts.
BBC Radio 4 has several tightly produced, charming formats throughout the day.
It just can’t be the case that a well-produced format isn’t acceptable in Radio 1’s daytime programming.
Ryan Tubridy is quite capable of delivering more than the aimless monologue he delivers at 9am – a slot that could be broken up into five separate shows of different formats each morning. For example, why isn’t there a single hour of women’s programming every week when Radio 4 has it? hour of the woman every day?
The sheer randomness of Ray D’Arcy’s two hours is the greatest waste. To be honest, sticking to these loose formats decade after decade is lazy. Inventing polarization and paying for stars is a poor substitute for elaborate production.
So I’ll keep writing the check, but not everyone is so forgiving. If I could do a quality show for little money on Newstalk, RTÉ could do better.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/superficial-analysis-simplistic-formats-and-puzzling-salary-disparity-show-rte-has-grown-lazy-41843948.html Superficial analyses, simple formats and puzzling salary differences show that RTÉ has become lazy