Data Driven Narrative ‘Cork’s Big Radio Switch’ (2013-15)

As I left Cork’s RedFM studio for a late evening meeting on February 19, 2014, it was a fairly uneventful news week, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something peculiar was in the air.….


I’d just arrived home, and it was that time of night when parents all over the country sat down and began scrolling through their social networks in search of missing news, and my husband was no exception. ‘So, Neil Prendeville is going to RedFM,’ he said sceptically, not even turning around to share his digital observations with me. I’d just returned from one of the year’s longest evening meetings and I was too tired to engage in the ruse. I thought my husband had misinterpreted the social post because Cork’s RedFM had confirmed a shift in our Breakfast host. I cleared up his confusion about the new breakfast and talk show hosts, then speculated that it could be a marketing stunt, similar to when we had a phoney U2 band perform on the Blackpool Shopping Centre! The husband turned around, his eyes raised to the heavens, and said, “No, it says Neil Prendeville,” suddenly a flood of memories from my day flashed before me, including my director’s earlier statement “We’ll talk in the morning,” in response to my question, “Is something going on, there is a weird vibe in the office today?” and when I tuned into 96FM I had heard Neil Prendiville’s peculiar sign off on his recent talk show. Could it be true? Might the biggest local radio talk show host, Neil Prendeville, be switching to Ireland’s first youth licensed station Cork’s RedFM.

Question: How did Talk Show Presenter ‘Neil Prendeville influence the Listenership Figures across all ‘National’ and ‘Local’ stations in Cork?

Neil Prendeville switched from 96FM to Cork’s RedFM and began broadcasting on March 31st, 2014. To visualize the answer, I focused my research on JNLR data from 2013 to 2015 (link to JNLR) since this is the three-year timeframe when the most-listened-to Talk Show host Neil Prendeville switched from 96FM to RedFM in Cork, I decided to retrieve three JNLR Cork books and clean my data to include 2013, 2014, and 2015. All the data raw and cleaned can be viewed on my Data Visualization reference page click here .

I cleaned the data and included Demographics Male, Female, 15-34, 18+, and 45+ listenership statistics from JNLR estimates prior to Neil Prendiville’s switch in 2013, the year of Neil Prendiville’s switch in 2014, and the year after Neil Prendiville’s switch in 2015. Neil Prendeville had switched from Cork’s 96FM station, which tailored to an older demographic, to RedFM, which had a license for people under the age of 35.

Important note 96fm/C103fm has a combined figure on JNLR for historical reasons; these stations have separate broadcasts for different audiences, but they are owned by the same media group and have the same CEO, there is no physical radio station called 96/103FM.


When glancing at the male figures across this period, we can see that in 2013, 96FM was the alpha player in Cork, with 77,000 male listeners daily, and the national station RTE had 51,000 male listeners, Today FM was third, C103fm was fourth, and RedFM was fifth with 26,000 male listeners. What is interesting of the year 2014 switch (Neil only started airing on RedFM March 31st, so the first quarter of 2014 JNLR is old listening habits, giving only 9 months of new listenership). Even with this mix of 9 months of new data with the old data, we can see a massive change in the order of listenership.

In 2013 we can see that 96FM is the male champion, with RTE in second place. However, by 2015, RedFM rose from fifth to third place, with C103FM slipping behind RedFM. This is a drastic rise for a radio station and unexpected shift in male rankings, and something Cork has never seen before. Male listenership in Cork fell slightly in 2013 prior to Neil’s switch, and remained stable in 2014 and 2015. But, even with a small decline in total male radio listenership, the 2014 RedFM presenter shakeup changed male listening habits across all stations in Cork. In 2013, Cork Males chose 96FM first, followed by national stations, with local stations C103 and RedFM coming in fourth and fifth, respectively. The year of the Switch (2014) saw Cork males abruptly turn their focus to local stations, with RTE becoming the only national station in the Top 4. Males have opted for local stations as their top two stations with huge numbers, leaving national stations like RTE coming third for the first time in Cork Radio history and C103FM competing for fourth with Today FM with 55,000 male listeners clearly switching out their national stations for local stations following Neil’s move.


Female listenership is the most sought-after demographic for commercial radio, and the drastic shifts in Cork’s female listenership pattern are interesting to observe. Prior to Neil Prendeville (2013), 96FM had a huge 51% female audience, RTE1 had 26%, and RedFM had 21%. In 2014, we saw 96FM’s female listeners drop to 43%, RTE1’s drop to 23%, and RedFM seem to have attracted these listeners as they rose to 30%. By 2015 the women of Cork are steadily moving between the now two major Cork players, with 96FM at 53% and RedFM at 57%, respectively, while the National station RTE falls to third position at 38%. In this three-year period Cork female listenership increased to 1.69%.

AGE 35+

One of the most difficult demos to persuade to change their listening habits is the 35+ age group. And, in terms of listenership, this age group’s interest in wireless has gradually increased over the last three years (any Radio).As RTE and 96FM compete for first place in this group, it’s fascinating to see how RedFM rose from seventh place in 2013 to second place in 2015, providing insight into how people of different ages migrate between Cork stations.

AGE 18+

This All-Adult category makes for insightful viewing and paints a perfect image of the huge shift in station popularity prior to, during, and after presenter transitions. Looking at this age group, it’s clear that the Big Switch had a significant impact on Cork’s radio audience. In 2014, RedFM climbed from fifth place with 55,000 listeners to second place with 90,000 listeners, and in 2015, RedFM is virtually synonymous with Cork’s most established radio station, 96FM.

AGE 15-34

This age group is an important figure as Neil Prendeville transitioned from an all-adult radio station to a youth license rivals RedFM (under 35). RedFM’s new breakfast host would have matched their age profile, however the new talk show host was considered to have an older fan base, the questioned was asked how would this impact REDFM’s under 35s? The flourish chart shows the pace at which this age group has evolved, as well as how the landscape of radio listenership has changed. RedFM’s under 35 audience progressed to the point that it surpassed the combined audience of 96/C103 radio stations; RedFM had established the 15-34 demo and was now attracting all demographic groups.

AGE 45+

The 45+ age group is arguably the most loyal of all age groups, but to whom are they most loyal? Are they devoted to the radio station or to the presenter? This is more difficult to grasp because the JNLR shows RedFM as the station with the greatest growth in listenership figures over the three-year period, from 8,000 in 2013 to 50,000 in 2015. However, we begin to see where the majority of this age group’s allegiance lies, it seems to be with the radio station rather than the presenter; pre-move, 96FM had an audience of 83,000, with a reduction in the ‘during’ year and a rise again in 2015. Radio stations across Cork mostly maintained their positions, with the exception of RedFM, which jumped from 9th to 4th place in 2015. The top three radio stations in this demographic stayed the same for three years, only changing between themselves, suggesting that the bulk of this age group is loyal to the radio station rather than to a celebrity. Even so, no presenter could have shifted such a large geographical area as Neil Prendeville has, and moving a 45+ age group from 9th to 4th place is impressive.


In answering my question, I discovered that the graphs showed not only a change in the audience between Cork stations but a mass audience exodus of National Stations to an overall renewed interest in local radio. The massive upheaval of an iconic Talk Presenter moving from an existing to a music oriented youth licensed radio station seemed so far-fetched that people tuned into wireless to hear the drama! What I find most remarkable from the findings using data visualization is that ‘Cork’s Big Radio Switch’ not only produced a David and Goliath tale between two local radio stations, but it also stimulated renewed interest in what some would consider old media, providing new life to Transitable Radio.

What and were of the data?

JNLR (Joint National Listenership Research) is a collaborative market research project for the Irish radio industry. The JNLR survey’s objective is to provide National, Regional, and Local Radio with accurate audience estimates to help them prepare their advertising schedules. A secondary aim is to predict radio audience figures to assist programming analysis and scheduling. The JNLR reports are based on the following criteria: 1. Weekday listening analysis 2. Review of the weekend listening, the study includes data for a standard weekday/weekend listening. The data for the reports is based on a rolling 12-month period. Data from the CSO Census of Population are used to make estimations. within each franchise area, quota controls are set for these attributes (age/sex). A booster sample is used in local franchise areas where the population of 15–34-year-olds is likely to generate an inadequate sample for reporting purposes – aim 160-weekday interviews among 15–34 p.a. The distribution decided upon by the research firms participating in Joint Industry Media Research – focused on the Census, QNHS, JNRS, and TV establishment surveys – is used to assess social class controls. Data Preparation Ipsos MRBI oversees data editing and coding. Espri Limited, a Dublin-based data processing firm, then computerizes it. To ensure that all information at the franchise area level is weighted back to the correct level of representation in the national population, the data must be weighted. JNLR data is provided to Users via Mediastar through Espri Limited, enabling further programming analysis and reach & frequency analysis. JNLR data is delivered in electronic format via JNLR/My MRBI, a secure online internet portal –

To view the Bibliography, Original and cleaned up data please click here