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Pandemic causes surge in losses at Rupert Murdoch’s Irish radio stations

Group that owns FM104 and Q102 cuts pay bill by 16% to limit damage

A pandemic-fuelled decline in retail and hospitality advertisers helped to more than double the losses last year at the Irish arm of Wireless Radio, whose stations include FM104 and Q102.

A pandemic-fuelled decline in retail and hospitality advertisers helped to more than double the losses last year at the Irish arm of Wireless Radio, whose stations include FM104 and Q102 in Dublin.

The company, which is ultimately owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, recorded an 11 per cent decline in sales to just under €20 million for the year to almost the end of June 2020, while pretax losses slid from almost €3 million to almost €7 million.

Value

The company wrote down the value of its Irish radio investments by €15.4 million, following a review triggered by its pandemic losses. It also appears to have implemented major pay cuts, after staff numbers actually increased slightly to 263 but the pay bill fell by more than 16 per cent to €10 million.

Wireless Radio (ROI) owns seven radio stations in Ireland, including Cork’s 96FM, Live 95 in Limerick, LMFM in Drogheda, U105 in Belfast and C103 in Cork, as well as its two best-known stations FM104 and Q102. It also includes the Umax ad platform and a number of digital streams and podcasts. The parent group in the UK includes Talksport and Virgin Radio, although the British operations are not captured in these accounts.

A note to the company’s accounts say its revenues for the first eight or so months of its financial year were “similar” to 2019, when its annual sales were more than €22.2 million. But the arrival of the pandemic had a “significant impact” on its final four months, when shops and hospitality outlets pared back advertising during the first lockdown.

Grants

Some of the sales declines, it says, were offset by additional Government advertising, waiving of certain fees, and an additional round of grants under the State-funded Sound & Vision scheme.

Wireless said it had “seen the benefit” of the ending of lockdown last summer when shops and hospitality began advertising again, although much of this improvement would not have fallen within the period captured by the accounts. It is likely to have been further hit financially, however, with the two additional lockdowns that followed in late 2020 and early 2021.

As part of the €15.4 million writedown on the value of its Irish investments, it also wrote down the value of its radio licences by more than €3 million. Wireless said it is plans to invest for the future, however, with additional digital stream and podcasts.

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