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How do you replace one of Irish broadcasting's big beasts? This man has a plan

Ivan Yates is off on his ‘gap year’ – but Newstalk’s boss has a plan to take on Morning Ireland.

Garrett Harte – the editor of Newstalk. Pic Maxwell's - No Repro fee Newstalk editor-in-chief Garrett Harte Source: Maxwell Photography

THERE WERE PLENTY of jokes about Ivan Yates’ impending ‘gap year’ at the launch of the revamped Newstalk schedule this week – but, as yet, there are no indications that the politician-turned-broadcaster is planning a return to radio in the foreseeable future.

The former Fine Gael minister has presented Newstalk Breakfast alongside Chris Donoghue for the last seven years – aside from that year abroad in Wales, where he declared bankruptcy; he’s leaving for good after finishing up in the slot this week, and plans to go travelling with his wife.

That departure, combined with a less-than-stellar showing in the latest JNLR results, provided something of a headache for the commercial news broadcaster’s editor-in-chief when it came to formulating a new schedule.

He’s insisting, however, that the plan to move O’Donoghue to a later slot and bring in a rotating schedule of breakfast hosts is the best strategy for the station in its ongoing battle with Morning Ireland, which built its audience by over 40,000 listeners over the last year.

“I’ve been involved in Newstalk for fourteen years, from day one,” said Garrett Harte – who moved up from editor to become editor-in-chief last year.

I’ve been involved in the evolution of the station and I think today marks a new dawn for the station. We’ll be ten years as a national station from September – and the lineup that we’ve presented is a lineup that will appeal to the 25-54 demographic that we’ve been targeting for the last number of years.

In a departure for Newstalk, there’ll be a rotating team of presenters at breakfast time from the autumn. The roster comprises TV3′s Colette Fitzpatrick, crime journalist Paul Williams, former rugby star Alan Quinlan, and Newstalk political editor Shane Coleman. Vincent Wall will continue to present Breakfast Business between 6.30am and 7.

Later in the day, O’Donoghue moves into George Hook’s old slot, where he’ll co-anchor with political journalist Sarah McInerney. Hook, who has announced his impending retirement several times in recent years, will stay on with the station – taking a lunchtime slot between midday and 2pm. (Jonathan Healy is “still part of the Newstalk team,” and they’re working on plans with him, according to the editor-in-chief).

Said Harte:

“We had a few decisions to make… Ivan Yates was leaving, that was beyond our control.

Chris Donoghue had presented the breakfast show for almost seven years and there’s a burnout factor – and I, as editor-in-chief of the station, am also responsible for the breakfast show – so I know the impact that being here at five in the morning can have on your body… so that was going to change.

28/06/2016. Newstalk 106-108 FM prime time Autumn Chris Donoghue and Sarah McInerney will present the evening drivetime show in the revamped schedule. Source: Leah Farrell

Rotating team 

“Burnout,” was one of the factors considered by management as they set about creating a new lineup for the show, Harte said – but they also took a look at what had made RTÉ’s three decade-old morning news broadcast such a success. Opting to go with a rotating roster, in the Morning Ireland style, was one of the first decisions they made.

However, said Harte, they also needed a team with good chemistry who could “bounce off each other” and provide entertainment value for listeners used to the ‘odd couple’ dynamic of Yates and O’Donoghue.

We needed to have a mixture of views. We needed to maintain continuity and familiarity for the listener – and we needed to provide somebody who would provide that little bit of divilment, who would provide strong opinion, who would challenge the listener.

A different debate

“There’s an algorithm somewhere,” dictating which combination of presenters helms the show on any given morning, Harte joked.

But he was clear that, aside from the schedule change, no-one should get the impression that Newstalk was about to start aping the national broadcaster’s tone and style.

We are the only challenger to Morning Ireland. We’re an independent broadcaster, so we don’t have to be slavish to what RTÉ does.

While mindful of BAI guidelines, Harte added: “We take positions. We were clear in the last year in our view on the marriage referendum.”

pat1 Pat Kenny takes to the streets of Dublin to explore the issue of homelessness. Source: Newstalk

Not-so-secret weapon 

It should be added – the station will also be making use of one of its remaining ‘big beasts’ in the battle to gain listeners from Radio 1 on weekday mornings.

Pat Kenny, whose defection from Montrose to Digges Lane startled the media industry three years ago, will begin his show an hour earlier from September. That means he’ll have an hour head-start on his former RTÉ colleague Sean O’Rourke too – a fact not lost on Newstalk’s boss.

It was a significant decision in our thinking. We really want to set the agenda. Sean does a very, very good programme on RTÉ, but I think Pat, since he’s come to Newstalk, has moved into the Newstalk ethos – and our ethos is to be a little bit more edgy.

The former Late Late Show host has been able to “move outside of his comfort zone and outside of restrictions that maybe had been there in RTÉ,” Harte said.

And he’s lapping it up.

Read: “We’re not going to try and be George – we’re not going to go on air and, kind of … rant” >

Read: Alan Kelly is astonished at claims he verbally attacked Newstalk presenter >

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