Five things the latest ratings reveal about Irish radio

The JNLR survey is out. What does it tell us about our listening habits?

Four ominous letters never seem too far away from the lips or minds of Irish radio executives, producers and presenters. They are “J”, “N”, “L” and “R”.

Every quarter the results of the Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) - a big, year-long rolling survey by Ipsos MBRI - are sent to stations and advertising agencies and we get some sense of which way "the dial" has been moving.

So what have we learned this time?

1. Irish people are loyal to radio

"Extremely" so, according to Gabrielle Cummins, chairwoman of the Choose Radio group that represents all radio sales houses to advertisers, who have been somewhat lukewarm on the medium recently. Ipsos MRBI's research backs the industry up on this.


The number of people who listen to radio daily has crept back over the 3 million mark for the first time since 2015, while the average daily listening time clocks in at a frankly astonishing 231 minutes.

Radio accounts for 88 per cent of all audio listening in Ireland, according to a separate Ipsos MRBI study from 2016, with listening to your own music at 8.6 per cent, streaming music at 2.8 per cent and podcasts at 0.9 per cent. So, no, not everybody has submitted to S-Town. In certain circles, it just feels that way.

Meanwhile, almost 1.3 million people only listen to one station - a loyalty factor “not replicated by any other medium”, says Cummins. But will advertisers hear the message?

2. Today FM and 2fm have a Dublin problem

While 82 per cent of Irish adults listen to radio on an average day, the proportion in Dublin has dropped to 75 per cent, with a clear pattern of decline establishing itself of late.

The woes of both Today FM and RTÉ 2fm can notably be traced to their weakness in the capital.

FM104, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, remains the second most listened-to station in Dublin behind Radio 1, with Newstalk in third. But Communicorp's Dublin franchise area stations Spin 1038 and 98FM, plus Q102 (also part of News Corp's Wireless Group), also pull in more Dublin listeners than Today FM.

This group, plus RTÉ Lyric FM, Sunshine 106.8 and Radio Nova, now have more listeners in Dublin than 2fm. So it's no surprise that Jenny Greene and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, a key weapon in 2fm's marketing armoury, will be heading to Cork and Galway soon - and most likely back to Electric Picnic, where their rave-tastic collaboration began.

3. Sean O’Rourke is untroubled by Pat Kenny

Sean O'Rourke's listenership of 354,000 on Radio 1 is the highest that the 10am to noon slot had in 15 years. Back then, Newstalk was only just getting off the ground as a Dublin station, and Radio 1's mid-morning presenter was one Pat Kenny.

Newstalk's big money poaching of Kenny in 2013 prompted a new battle between Radio 1 and the Communicorp station - but in truth it has been a very one-sided battle.

Kenny's audience of 148,000 is also a new high for the now three-hour Newstalk show, but it has taken some time to even reach this point. Kenny may be helped in future surveys by the extra half hour in his running time he gained in September, though he may be hindered by the lack of a lead-in from Ivan Yates at breakfast.

On Thursday morning, Dr Peter Boylan announced his resignation from the board of the National Maternity Hospital on Kenny's show. To compete better with Radio 1, Newstalk needs more moments like this.

4. 2fm boss Dan Healy still feels a bit like Jürgen Klopp

After a string of poor JNLRs, head of 2fm Dan Healy said he "felt like Jürgen Klopp" - the manager of Liverpool football club had, at the time, just overseen a run of bad results.

But for the second consecutive JNLR, 2fm has added listeners, and it is even back in positive territory year-on year (just about). So would he like to compare himself to another manager?

He stuck with the Klopp and Liverpool analogy. “We were working really hard, but for whatever reason we weren’t scoring goals. Now we’re working really hard and it’s paying off. We’re not going to win the Premier League this year, but we’re definitely in Europe.”

Healy predicts that the third-quarter JNLR, due to be published in October, will be a good one for 2fm, as a poor third quarter in 2016 will be “washed out” of the survey. For now, the 2fm project appears to have the support of his bosses on the RTÉ executive board. But this is RTÉ. Anything could happen.

5. It’s too early say if “Comedy Central” will do the trick for Today FM

"Comedy Central" is Healy's term for the new line-up on rival station Today FM. Ex-lunchtime hosts Dermot Whelan and Dave Moore, aka Dermot & Dave, shifted into Anton Savage's 9am to noon slot in January, while stand-up Al Porter became its new lunchtime host in February.

Today FM, which has a jaunty new logo, pointed out that Dermot & Dave had recently embarked on a nationwide comedy tour, and that Porter “has been compared to Graham Norton”.

It also hailed survey-on-survey listenership gains for both time slots. But Whelan and Moore, and particularly Porter, had barely got their seats warm by the end of this JNLR survey period. Dermot & Dave's audience of 176,000, while up 12,000 since the last survey, largely relates to Savage's time in the chair and is also only up 1,000 year-on-year.

Today FM, the only national station to have lost listeners over the past 12 months, steps up its “statement of intent” marketing campaign next week. It needs more people to not just laugh, but listen.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics