When Gabrielle Cummins took over as CEO of Beat 102-103 radio in 2007, she had a vision. She wanted to turn the regional, youth-focused radio station into a market trailblazer and trendsetter, and she had a plan to make it happen. 

But less than a year later, a recession hit, which spelt the beginning of the end a number of local and regional media outlets. “Most good business plans set out a 3-5 year scheme with the expectation of being pretty much where you want to be after that stage,” Cummins said. “Just when we were about to turn a corner, boom. We had to completely rethink and restructure our entire model.”

She, and the station, made it out, but only to do it all over again just over a decade later when the pandemic hit. 

Having weathered perhaps the two most ferocious storms the media industry has ever faced, Cummins is still sailing, and she has wind in her sails, too. 


While at the University of Limerick, Cummins got her start in the radio industry during a year abroad in the US. 

She got a placement at a local, NBC affiliated TV station in Virginia, where she worked for six months. Arriving back in Limerick, she was set on a broadcast career. The good news for her was that she had experience, giving her enough of an edge to nab a broadcast journalism job at Waterford’s WLR FM after graduating in 1998. 

In 2003, she moved to Beat as the head of news and sports, putting her on a path to succeed the then CEO Kieran McGeary in 2007, when he moved to Cork’s 96fm.

Cummins’ first order of business as chief executive was applying for a youth broadcast licence, a mandatory credential for a radio stations looking to target a young audience. 

Her plan was to offer the 15-35 age group an alternative to the national stations, both for music selection and news coverage, focused on the southeast region. 

Following a hearing at a Kilkenny hotel where Cummins and her colleagues had to deliver a 20-minute business plan and development pitch to the Broadcasting Authority, her station was awarded the licence. 

“Finally, under 35s across the southeast of Ireland had an alternative to the national stations,” she said. “They had a radio station they could call their own, one based in their back yard.” 

But before Cummins could make any progress on her vision, disaster struck. 

Markets crashed, the economy tanked, and nearly all of the station’s advertisers pulled out. Cummins inherited a firestorm.

“It was quite a challenging few years,” she said. “Thankfully, our audience remained loyal, but the financial side remained exceptionally challenging. We had to look at all of our cost base, our overhead, our salaries, our equipment, or licences, our everything, and ask what we need to do to keep the station up and running.”

Amidst the recession and retreating advertisers, Cummins also faced a profound changing of the guard for where people, especially young people, consumed media. 

“When I started in 2003, words like Facebook, Spotify, Tik Tok were all words that weren’t in the vocabulary,” she said. “When we talked about our audience in 2003, we were talking about our audience – people who listen to the station as their source of radio, news, everything. In 2008, they didn’t exist anymore. You couldn’t talk about your audience in that same way; everything changed, so we had to really embrace the digital revolution.”

Putting more stress on the operation, Cummins had promised the BAI that the station would reach profitability within five years, a feat that now seemed unachievable.

Amid the chaos, Cummins saw an opportunity.

“Our vision from the beginning was to be a leader in evolving media, that was our chance to do that,” she said.


“We still had a strong product on-air, but obviously, we weren’t going to be able to produce the same level of content.”

Faced with the challenge of both restructuring the company’s business model to suit the economic climate and redesigning its content to suit its listeners, Cummins got to work.

The station began putting more emphasis on hyperlocal advertising rather than national. Bigger brands cutting advertising budgets left space for companies in the southeast region to reach their concentrated audience through the station. 

The station also added a video section to its website, introduced podcasts, and launched social media campaigns in an effort to adapt to the competitive attention economy. 

Cummins also introduced non-traditional revenue events (NTR), like sponsored community events or prize sweepstakes, as a way to supplement the station’s income.

The scheme worked, and Beat reached financial self-sustainability in the early 2010s.

The Irish Times bought Beat in 2017 as part of its acquisition of The Irish Examiner, kicking off the chief executive’s second term under new ownership. 

It was business as usual at the station for the next couple of years until 2020, when the pandemic hit, and the brand was once again thrown into turmoil.

This time, Beat sought aid from the government.

“Like every station in Ireland, we applied to the BAI for support,” Cummins said. “We were issued grants, which were issued to pretty much all stations, and that obviously helped because our commercial wing took a big hit. National advertising continued to be really torn, and local was challenging.”

While aid from the government helped keep the station afloat, Cummins struggled with the fact that she could no longer deliver the same product to listeners. 

“We still had a strong product on-air, but obviously, we weren’t going to be able to produce the same level of content,” she said. 

As a condition under its youth broadcasting licence, the station was required to air 2 hours of news every day, or 20 per cent of its daytime broadcast. A large contingent of the daily news section often involved sending Beat journalists out into the public, either to report on an ongoing event or to engage with people on the street, neither of which could be done during the pandemic. 

It wasn’t all negative, though. With its radio show impaired, Beat looked into other avenues to reach and connect with its audience. One of those avenues was Tik Tok, a platform which exploded in popularity during the pandemic. 

Deadset of maintaining the vision of being a leader in evolving media, Beat was in early on Tik Tok, long before its more traditional competitors. The jump spurred the station into the most followed Irish media company on the platform with over 180,000 followers, more than twice the followers of second place RTEnews with 80,000.

Although Cummins said that government support was “extremely important” during Covid, she also made it a priority to reinvest some of the money back into the community.

“We are a community radio station,” she said. “Part of our job is to help people connect more with the region.”

“We’re back to standing on our own two feet, and we’re standing strong”

The station commissioned a study on how the pandemic had impacted the mental health of you people. The study consisted of hundreds of interviews, along with an analysis of numerical data from schools. The station presented the research to the Oireachtas committee. 

“We felt we were helping that vulnerable audience that missed so many rights of passage,” she said. “We tried to be there for them, we felt that was our responsibility.”

The station’s community work, along with its social media focus during the pandemic, helped it to bounce back resolutely in the past year. 

“We are back to 100 per cent self-sustainable, as every radio station needs to function properly – we are there,” Cummins said. “The BAI support was absolutely necessary and it saved us, but we’re back to standing on our own two feet, and we’re standing strong.”

Cummins is also confident that radio will maintain a foothold in the Irish media market despite the word on the street spelling doom for local media companies.

Every year, the Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR), a research initiative associated with the BAI, compiles information on the popularity of different mediums within the Irish media.

“Consistently, radio is the leading medium in the audio landscape in Ireland,” Cummins said. “That hasn’t changed even with the growth of podcasting. It has dropped slightly, but it is still the number one medium.”

Advertising revenue is also bouncing back. In 2021, ads on Irish radio stations accounted for over €145 million. €117 million came from commercials, while the remaining came from sponsorships and partnerships. In 2022, radio stations have raked in €33 million in ad revenue already, up 22 per cent from the same period last year.

Having seen how quickly the tides can change in her industry, though, Cummins preached that the company must stay agile. 

“We still have a lot of work to do with the digital sphere,” she said. “Podcasting is still an area of growth for a beat. We are the audio leaders in Ireland, and podcasting is becoming a part of audio more and more. We shouldn’t be scared. I see it as an opportunity.”

Beat runs several podcasts specialised around topics that interest their audience, such as young women’s issues and local sports teams.

The station’s 15-35 age demographic also poses challenges. 

“The attention span of the 15-25 group is bite-sized, and it’s getting smaller,” Cummings said. “We have to keep adjusting to that, and that’s driven by other platforms like Tik Tok, and Instagram. We have to keep it really short and snappy.”

The 25-35 year oldmarket, Cummins said, craves a more traditional product, which forces the station to be very intentional about what content they produce for each group and when. 

Having come out through the other side of Covid, the station is now able to get back to developing non-traditional revenue (NTR) streams. The events will help inject some cash flow into the company, but to Cummins, they are also a key way to build engagement and relationships with the community it serves. 

“Getting back to the NTRs might be what we are most excited about,” Cummins said, having not been able to host any such community outreach events since early 2020.

“Really, it’s just an exciting reminder of what we’ve been through and all that we’ve overcome.”