Hooked: listeners continue to listen to Newstalk's Tom Dunne, Seán Moncrieff and George Hook in large numbers

Troubled radio station Newstalk has lost another of its senior broadcasters with business editor Conor Brophy telling chief executive Frank Cronin last week he was leaving for RTÉ. He follows Claire Byrne, who presented her last Breakfast programme on Friday. Station management insists the recent exodus will impact little on audience figures, but media sources say the regular departures are a direct reflection of pay and conditions at the station and the near impossibility of competing with the allure of the the national broadcaster.

Byrne also left for RTÉ, and a reliable source told the Sunday Tribune this weekend that another high profile on-air figure has also made enquries about the possibility of jumping ship. The exodus reflects low morale at the station following a highly acrimonious merging of the Newstalk and Today FM newsrooms, and a lack of union representation or competitive pay scales. Last week, staff at both stations were told not to speak to reporters from newspapers wishing to write about their troubles.

Despite the continuous upheaval – and there are those who put it down to business as usual in the radio world – Newstalk insists its audience is growing and its future is assured. "We have a group of really good presenters who have been with the station for a long time and they will continue with the station and we need to develop more presenters," Cronin told the Sunday Tribune. "We are only eight years in existence. We are a young organisation and we have had a very successful year. When we get more successful we will take more opportunity to solidify people for a longer period of time."

Cronin confirmed that staff had been told not to speak to other media. "It's better for us and for everyone to manage our press relations properly," he said. "It's not fair for people to read about stuff in the press."

Newstalk has had plenty of successes and has been voted best station by its peers. The Off the Ball programme is fast becoming an institution amongst sports fans. George Hook, Tom Dunne and Seán Moncrieff continue to command popular followings.

"I would genuinely say there is not another media company that is up as much as us," said Cronin. "Our advertising figures are up double digit growth which is very good and we are really proud of that."

Mark Hopkins of the advertising agency Hopkins Communications concurred, saying that in spite of big name losses, advertisers will pay attention only to the company's impressive audience growth.

In spite of its plans to nurture young talent there is a consensus that a lack of pay will continue to encourage departures.

This, coupled with an industry belief that RTÉ poaches from other stations in order to weaken them, spells further uncertainty for the health of private stations.

"They always have an exodus every couple of years. They are bad payers and there are no benefits. People want a bit of security," said one source. "I would say they were gutted [over Conor Brophy's departure] because he was a big part of their plan for the new [breakfast] show."

Another insider intimated that Claire Byrne's departure was more to do with lifestyle reasons than financial concerns. "You can see why she has done what she has done. She is a great colleague and a great person so in that sense you are losing that but she has lifestyle reasons for what she has done."