Probably the most significant thing about Ryan Tubridy’s big move to Virgin radio in the UK is that as part of the deal, he will retain the chance to win back a slice of his Irish audience. His new show, to be broadcast from 10am to 1pm every weekday from January 4th, will not only reach the 1.1m British listeners of his new employer’s station, but will be simulcast on an array of Irish stations, including q102 in Dublin and Limerick’s Live 95 in Limerick. If you’re one of the Irish folks out there gasping for you Tubridy fix, well. You’ll be able to listen to him from the new year.
This may, or may not, work. It may prove, I suspect, a particular challenge for a mainly local station like Live95, which will have to forego its usual role of covering Limerick-based news and chat for three hours every day while the listeners hear Tubridy regaling a London audience.
It’s also going to be a challenge, psychologically, for the presenter: Is he going to be more concerned about the people tuning in to hear what’s up next in Britain after the Chris Evans show, or is he going to be trying to regain some of his old radio one audience share back in Dublin?
If he gets the balance wrong, it could be an abject disaster. British people are not likely to be that keen, you suspect, on hearing chatter about the Rose of Tralee or domestic Irish politics. Nor are the listeners to Q102 likely to hang around listening to Tubs chatter on about the latest Royal Wedding. He’ll probably be forced, as a result, to stick to lighter topics that unite audiences on both sides of the Irish sea: Love Island and I’m a celebrity, perhaps.
All that said, it’s a banner day for Tubridy and, indeed, for his agent Noel Kelly. It’s probably also yet another bad day for RTE.
Tubridy’s new gig, remember, comes just days after RTE announced to the whole country that moving forward, the highest possible salary for an RTE star would be a mere €250,000 per year. That means that people like Joe Duffy and Ray D’Arcy are going to have to accept substantial pay cuts in excess, in some cases, of €100,000 per year. Before Tubridy landed the new job, RTE were able to use his twisting in the wind as something of a cautionary tale to other talent: Look at Ryan, they could have said, or implied. Turns out there wasn’t much demand for his services elsewhere. Well, that just changed. And with it, Noel Kelly’s leverage over RTE has substantially improved. In that sense, Tubridy’s new job is a big win for all of Kelly’s other clients, and a bit of a strategic weakness for RTE when it negotiates with those clients.
That said, Tubridy’s new job is an undoubted demotion. In the UK media environment – even despite it’s 1.1million claimed listeners – Virgin Radio is an absolute minnow. BBC Radio Two, for example, boasts 15million listeners. Virgin Radio barely makes any list of the top radio stations in the UK, and has until now relied almost entirely on Chris Evans to carry it. Tubridy is not going to inherit a big audience share like the one he had handed to him at RTE: He’s going to have to build a following in the UK, where he is very much not a household name.
Nonetheless, lest this piece seem churlish, that seems like the kind of challenge he would – and should – relish. After all, Virgin Radio may not be his final destination. Prove yourself in the league two of UK radio, and who knows, a callup to a premier league side like BBC or Capital Radio could follow in short order.
Virgin being a commercial station, Tubridy’s salary will remain a confidential matter, unless his team decides that it’s big enough to be worth leaking back to some Irish media outlet as a two fingered salute to RTE. But even if it’s not on the scale of what he was earning at RTE, it’s a safe bet that getting the job was probably more important to him in the short term than what he was likely to be earning in that job. Two days ago his career was dead, in the eyes of a lot of observers. Now he gets another shot.
How he performs, and how he manages the adjustment to the UK market, will be one of the biggest media storylines over the next year in Ireland. And it could have real consequences for RTE, as the national broadcaster prepares to try and cut its remaining “stars” down to size. The bad news just keeps coming for RTE.