Taking DJs Off The Air

In the UK, last week, two DJs were informed that they would be taken off-air before they had planned to be.

Ken Bruce, who is off to Greatest Hits Radio, had planned to leave Radio 2 when his contract officially finished, at the end of March, and then appear on his new station after the weekend on April 3rd.

Steve Allen, who had been on LBC pretty much for 44 years, tweeted that his contract was up ‘shortly’ but that ‘following discussions’ he’s stepping down immediately. Announced, in similar words, on Friday at 2.15pm by LBC, it meant that he wouldn’t be having a last show.

For Ken, 15 minutes before the LBC announcement, Radio 2 announced that Vernon Kay was to replace him, starting in May and that Gary Davies will cover the show in the meantime. They also said that Ken ‘has decided’ his last show is this coming Friday, March 3rd.

His tweet suggests that the decision wasn’t really his:

Choreographing the departure of a very public face is hard on everyone – the talent, the station and the listeners. It doesn’t help that everyone’s motivations aren’t particularly aligned. Often talent doesn’t want to go and is angry, sometimes if stations are surprised by a departure they’re desperate to keep people on board whilst they race to make a decision.

The big issue for stations is the DLT factor (taken from David Lloyd’s Radio Moments Clips) where he resigned on-air and gave the station a kick-in:

The quote: Changes are being made here that go against my principles and I just cannot agree with them.

DLT’s view, later: Am I sorry I left? No. Am I sorry I did it on air? No, not at all. I would do exactly the same thing over again.

Radio stations try to project an image so having one of your DJs slag you off isn’t exactly enhancing. It also generates press coverage which covers the old – your exiting presenter or the historic nature of the station, rather than the one you want – the future, the positive. It drags you back, when you’re desperate to drive it forward.

A ‘DLT’ I don’t think is that good for the DJ. You’ve spent your life saying how much you love the radio station that you’re on (truthful or not) and suddenly you’ve done a 180 and now hate it. It’s hard not to sound like a disgruntled employee.

The fear of the DLT means that for many years, the default position for radio stations was that as soon as you find out you’re off, or you tell the station that you’re off, then you’re sadly shown the door.

I once remember sitting down with Johnny Vaughan talking about his exit from Capital. His take was that he knew it would come sometime and he was fascinated by the idea of it, and was almost excited for the moment of truth. Like he had done many times before, he was dispatched by Richard Park with a handshake and a smile.

Chris Moyles talked about the end of his time at Radio 1 on I’m A Celeb, where he was called in after the show by Controller Ben Cooper and told that it was going to be announced the show was ending in 20 minutes time on Newsbeat.

As the clip shows he managed to persuade Ben that he was the one to make the announcement and he’d do it the next day. Moyles tells the story that they were worried the news would leak, as he says “well, up to 60 seconds ago, I didn’t know about it”.

In the end this was allowed and Chris did a great goodbye the next morning, allowing him to tweak the truth slightly and reposition it as his choice. A white lie? Yes, but one that’s actually pretty generous of Chris as it gives the station ‘permission’ to then replace him, rather than anger the listeners. Obviously it also looks good for Chris too.

Radio 2’s situation with Ken is a little more unusual as it’s the talent saying they’re off, rather than the station giving the marching orders. It’s hard to know the time between Radio 2 finding out and the leaving announcement being made. The fact there was nearly a month before they announced a successor suggests they probably didn’t have that much time.

Radio 2 had faced a similar issue with Chris Evans’ departure. Announced in September, he stayed on air until Christmas, starting at Virgin Radio soon after. Chris didn’t talk a lot on-air about his new home, but listeners would be in no doubt he was off and still be available to listen to.

Radio stations normally have around 50% of their listeners tuning in to the breakfast show. The station you start your day with, is most likely the one you stay tuned to for the rest of the day. So, losing breakfast listeners is potentially detrimental to your whole station.

With the Chris Evans move, Virgin Radio didn’t make too much about Chris’ arrival during those last three months, but that’s not the same play that Greatest Hits Radio have made.

For many, Ken Bruce is the breakfast show on Radio 2 (with older listeners getting up later), it’s also the biggest show on the station. Ever since his announcement on-air, on-line and on social media (where a picture of Ken is even their accounts’ current avatar), GHR has gone hard on in spreading the word.

If Ken finished at Radio 2 on Friday and then started on GHR on Monday, it makes it very easy for listeners to switch across. With Radio 2 inserting an additional three weeks, it does give the chance for some listeners to calm a little, whilst quality broadcaster and safe pair of hands, Gary Davies takes over. His ongoing stint until May will mean the station stops them feeling startled by Vernon Kay, who for many might feel quite different to what went before. If they’d launched Vernon on the same day, the double shock of losing your favourite and finding a new person that’s of a different style (and era) would probably hasten a transfer. This way it gives them the best chance of making a transition. It also gives them a clear shot for Radio 2 to launch their new show.

Being wary of your talent and their destination isn’t something limited to the UK. In Australia, the biggest show was Kyle and Jackie O on 2DayFM and the Hit Network. They announced they were leaving in November 2013 after a contractual impasse, with one commentator discussing the talks, saying they “don’t think they have any other place to go”. Brilliantly wrong, 2Day threw a big party for them on their last day, but before the cake was finished a press release went out the same day announcing they were relaunching Mix as KIIS and becoming the new breakfast hosts. They started two months later and you can read about what happened behind the scenes here.

In the states, the biggest broadcast radio jock – Howard Stern – left linear radio for SiriusXM and talked a lot about it in his final weeks. So much so his old employer, CBS, sued him for “misappropriating millions of dollars” of radio airtime by promoting his move to Sirius satellite radio while he was still working for the network. They later settled.

So what’s the best way of dealing with someone leaving? It all depends on trust. The problem is that at the point of departure there’s usually a trust deficit! For both sides, there’s probably more that can be put into contracts about the end – both for stations and individuals – to stop the surprises and allow more dignified closures whilst everyone is in a good mood.

In the absence of that, it’s trying to understand each others motivations and point of view. Like the end of a long-running relationship, can everyone work to stay on good terms?


There’s a new episode of The Media Podcast available. I chat to Paul Robinson and Jamie East about Disney & China, scruffy newsreaders and journalistic doorstepping. Listen here.

Have you got a podcast superstar working for you? Do nominate them in PodPod’s free Faces to Watch initiative.

If you’re going to The Future of Audio event on Wednesday – I’ll see you there!

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Last week both Steve Allen and Ken Bruce got new news about their departures

Spotify on Podcasts and their New Radio AI DJ

Spotify’s recent Q4 update has resulted in lots of predictions about the future of podcasting, and Spotify’s position in it, partly after CEO Daniel Ek said “I got carried away”. The usually excellent Semafor ran a piece suggesting Spotify’s podcast bet has gone wrong.

James Cridland articulated a different view in Podnews – “If coming from nowhere and being #1 in most countries in less than four years is “going wrong” [where does that leave everyone else]?

I think it’s fair to say there’s been bumps in their podcasting journey, but it would be very difficult to argue that they haven’t made a massive splash and built a business of significant scale, providing the first real competition to Apple’s dominance of the podcast space.

Its intervention in the market has been down to three things. But before we get to that, it’s important to see where they came from. Before their acquisition spree, they had introduced podcasts into their app and had commissioned some of their own shows and made some talent acquisitions (like The Receipts).

The big change, though, was doing three things. The first was building scale in their owned and rep’d shows. Buying Parcast, Gimlet and The Ringer alongside exclusive deals with Joe Rogan, the Obamas and Meghan and Harry, gave them significant downloads and reach. This, combined with their other content initiatives meant they had the scale to drive their second big decision – growing their advertising operation. This is something they grew even further by acquiring Megaphone – which provides ad services to podcasters.

Having Megaphone alongside their other big acquisition – of podcast publishing platform Anchor – meant the ability to build a platform that could provide a great environment for creators.

The latter’s important – instead of continuing to spend loads of money buying content and content companies, you can instead have a selection of services that means creators come to you, and build on your platform.

It’s not a new play. YouTube’s hosting, monetisation and marketing of creators’ video content has built a huge business for Alphabet – one no one has come close to replicating. There’s definitely value in being the place for podcast creators – but I still think Spotify has quite a way to unite their tools, to lose their obsession with Spotify-specific features (polls etc) and to make the subscription journey as smooth as Apple’s.

In summary they now have scale in downloads, a stronger monetisation platform and (potentially) the right creator tools to attract more people to their platform. They also have the number 1 or number 2 podcast app in most territories.

The staff changes, axing of shows, bad integration work of studio acquisitions is, of course, not ideal – but the end result of all that is they are in a very strong place going forward.

Spotify’s AI DJ

But it’s not just podcasts that Spotify have been busy working on. They’re making (another) attempt at ‘taking on radio’. Radio, especially in the US, generates revenues that dwarf podcasting. Daniel Ek has always been focused on breaking broadcast’s stranglehold. Usually unsuccessfully. Whether its content plays like Music + Talk or devices like the Car Thing, Spotify have a history of delivering clunkers. As I’ve talked about before, this is because big tech fails to understand why radio works (and they never seem to hire any people who know!).

Will their latest attempt beat their last lot of cock-ups?

It is, on the surface, a neat idea. Spotify knows what music you like, so they’ve combined this with a ‘DJ’ – an AI voice that talks to you, provides context for what it’s about to play and is generally jolly (well according to the video above).

Ignoring the ‘powered by AI’ strap-line, which is a little band-wagon jumping, I think they still misunderstand what a DJ does. Listeners aren’t crying out for functional interruptions, especially from someone that isn’t real. The DJs that listeners don’t like are the inauthentic ones or those that ‘talk too much’, listener code for ‘I don’t like what they say’. Having an AI make guesses about what I want to hear now, based on what I previously listened to, is perhaps likely to be less successful than they think. All you have to do is look at people taking the mick out of their Spotify Unwrapped, and the reasons it’s wrong – kids, parties, ex-relationship woes – to show your play-log is not how you define your listening today.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and we’ll see what it’s like IRL! BUT I bet they still don’t have next song markers and intros coded up, so it’ll end up being presenter link followed by a 00.00 start of the song, killing much of the flow. Now sorting that out with AI would be a step forward.


You can catch-up on last week’s Media Podcast where Ann Charles and Steven D. Wright joined to talk about the BBC Chairman, TV taxes and nepo-babies. Plus I spoke to Great British Bake Off boss and creator of The Piano, he unexpectedly did a mea-culpa over the last series of Bake Off, which ended up making the news with pieces in Deadline, Metro and more. You can listen here.

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Spotify continue to go for your ears

RAJAR Q4/2022

In the UK, and in many markets, radio has developed from predominantly local stations into nationally executed brands and products. We’ve also seen lots of consolidation, so four operators – the BBC, Global, Bauer and News – dominate the majority of listening.

These groups have done a mixture of combining stations into national brands, launching spin-offs and launching new radio brands too.

For the commercial outfits, getting a larger share of commercial impacts is the focus, as that generates more £££. For the BBC, they’re dealing with far more competition than they have ever had before, losing their monopoly of broadcast spectrum, and being limited by what they can do on linear and non-linear by competitors and available budgets. However they are all still trying to demonstrate broad reach – so they can be seen to be delivering for all licence fee payers.

All of this taken together, I think, means the operators need to think more strategically about the stations they run and where these ‘products’ are in their life cycle. The old days of working to be number 1 makes less sense when you are running a portfolio of products.

Whilst true believers in local radio may be aghast, Global and Bauer are more akin to being a Unilever than a 1980s ILR operator. If you’re a radio anorak, maybe turn away now.

I say all of this because when I was looking at this quarter’s RAJAR figures, some product life cycle things struck me. If you are unaware, the historic product lifecycle talks about Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Saturation and Decline. Boston Consulting Group built on this creating a matrix that looked at growth stage and profits, splitting products into Stars, Cash Cows, Question Marks and Dogs. There’s a great primer on all of this here.

For radio there are lots of historic brands – your Capitals, Radio 2s etc – and then there’s been a lot of digital spin-offs – Absolute 80s, Capital Dance, talkSPORT 2 etc. In addition there’s been new brand launches – Times Radio, Scala, Boom Radio. These stations all do different jobs for the owners. Spin-offs require very little investment other than transmission. They piggy-back a brand, occupy a niche and plug into existing advertising network revenue. Agencies are buying Heart – all of it, rather than Heart and Heart 90s separately. Therefore it’s (relatively) easy money.

New brands require investment, but potentially take an owner into a new territory – it requires a lot more investment and the returns can be more of a gamble. But if it works and resonates strongly with listeners, you’re creating something with real ongoing value.

Legacy stations are difficult, they were Stars and can be long-term cash cows, but it requires owners to think about where they invest their money.

This is a very long introduction to this quarter’s RAJAR update, but keep all of this in mind when thinking about individual station ratings. I would also say that I’m able to write this post so quickly because I use Hallett Arendt’s Octagon software to analyse the data.


If we look at Absolute Radio it’s seen a, main station, decline quarter on quarter to 2,124 (from 2,487) but this is more a realignment back to its more recent figures. Its spin-offs see a variety of results. 70s falls to 294k (vs q-on-q 312k and y-o-y 420k). Is it competition from Heart 70s? Not really, it’s a recent launch but perhaps peaked last quarter at 630k, it’s now at 591k.

Over in the 80s battle, it’s been relatively flat for Absolute 80s over the last year – around 1.5m – and Heart 80s has seen a drop to 1,265k (vs q-on-q 1,407k and 1,325k y-o-y). Perhaps interest in 70s/80s has now peaked?

Absolute 00s and 10s are starting to see some growth, with 00s nearly doubling y-o-y to 305k and 10s up to 143k.

Dance and Pop

Heart Dance sees a drop from last quarter’s 1m reach back to a more regular 741k (Q2 was 752k). Capital Dance has seen good growth to nearly a million – 916k (up from 819k q-on-q and 593k y-on-y)

Kiss meanwhile sees a decline to 2,348k (vs 2,702k q-on-q and 2,772 y-on-y). Kiss Fresh is trying hard to hold its ground now at 241k (vs 254k q-on-q and 306 y-on-y). Kisstory’s in a similar position with a 2,264k reach (vs 2,299k q-on-q and 2,300k y-on-y). Kiss is still a very big station – the 17th biggest by reach (and Kisstory the 16th) – even maintaining its audience should be regarded as a big success, but with new entrants it’s going to be hard to grow – and defending it is likely to become even harder.

Similarly Capital was up q-on-q to 5,913k (from 5,730k) though down year on year from 6,348.

Radio 1 is down again – back into the 7s of Q1 and Q2 – now at 7,795k (vs 8,144k q-on-q and 8,166k y-on-y). A lot of big schedule changes in 2022, including Scott moving in the last quarter from Radio 1 to Radio 2.

It’s still early days for Scott’s move to replace Steve Wright. Looking at the R2 numbers for Steve’s slot (2pm to 5pm) there’s a month of deps (Steve left at the end of Sept) and then two months of Scott in Q4 data (though doing two hours rather than three). There’s been no particular cratering to the slot, he’s very marginally down to 7,118k (vs 7,286 q-on-q and 7,443 y-on-y). But probably holding up better than the station as a whole, where R2’s reach figure is now 14,286k (vs 14,461 and year-on-year 14,865). Looking at Scott’s 2-hour time-slot, the results are similar.

Also, again it’s early, but Scott’s appearance on Radio 2 between 2pm and 4pm hasn’t really affected Radio 1 – where you would expect some side-switching to follow him. R1’s reach for that slot is now 2,659k vs last quarter’s 2,686k. The real test will come from looking at a year’s worth of quarters – but no instant crumbling so far.


Similar to Kiss, Magic has a stable quarter, hitting 2,849 vs q-on-q’s 2,847 – but it is significantly down on where it was last year – 3,253k. Magic Chilled has seen good growth to 448k (its previous four quarters were 263k, 323k, 376k and 409k). Magic Soul lacks nationwide distribution, but while it is down on the quarter to 418k (vs 455k), it’s up on the year significantly from 286k. Mellow Magic has seen growth to a high water mark for the last couple of years – 555k

Greatest Hits Radio has been marching on over the past few years, gobbling up FM stations, and adding talent like Simon Mayo. Its recent announcements include the snaffling of Ken Bruce and some re-brands of Scottish stations. I think we may see some more of that in England before Ken starts at the beginning of April. Its figures have been steadily growing with reach now at 3,978k (vs 3,721k q-on-q and 3,026k y-on-y). In London it’s now at 936k (vs 873k q-on-q and 818k y-on-y). Looking at audience share in London, it’s now at 2.1% vs Smooth Radio’s 2.2%.

One interesting GHR aside, is that the brand-licensing deal with Nation for their large South Coast FM regional expired just before this quarter. This meant the station rebranding from GHR to Nation Radio on the 19th September. It’s Q4/2022 figures include half from Q3 and half from Q4, but it has seen a drop to 136k from 245k last time around. I would imagine it will drop further in Q1/2023. What’s not helpful for Nation is that GHR continues on the digital platforms.

We’ll definitely see more growth for GHR when we get the Q2 and Q3 figures later in the year. It will be interesting to see the effect on Heart, Magic and Smooth.

Speaking of Heart its had a good quarter, one of its best for around five years – with an 8.6m reach. Its broader network, including the spin-offs has generated its best ever performance with 10.8m reach and a whopping 73m hours.


The Ken Bruce shift is definitely going to generate some churn from Radio 2. As we’ve seen with the previous departures of Chris Evans and Simon Mayo, R2’s figures aren’t really that affected. When you have 14.5m listeners, losing 500k after all, is in the margin of error for a quarter. It is clearly good news for GHR as Ken will keep his slot, just further up the dial – but for older listeners who may be looking at the Radio 2 daytime schedule and thinking there’s not a lot for me – many may well be on the hunt for a new home – or at least auditioning one.

This churn is great news for GHR and Smooth – and perhaps suggest why Smooth’s music position has changed from ‘relaxing’ to ‘always the best music’.

It’s also good news at the top end for Boom Radio; the start-up for those slowing down. They had another great book up to 530k reach (vs 443k q-on-q and 241 y-on-y). They’re also up there with Radio 4, Radio 2 and LBC for average hours – 11! This gives them a great total hours of 3.9m – making them bigger than Heart 80s, Hits Radio, Capital Xtra, Talk Radio and Times Radio.

Boom is targeted at 55+, though its core 5-year demo is 70 to 75 – where it has a 131k reach. Radio 2 on the other hand has 1.4m of them tuning in. These are great targets for Boom, who have very few other radio options – it will be interesting to keep track of both stations’ reach within this audience over the coming quarters post-Ken!


LBC remains dominant in commercial speech with a reach of 2.5m (vs 2,453k q-on-q and 2,611k y-on-y). But it’s also interesting to look at the younger upstarts.

GB News had a good book last quarter (414k), but this has dropped back to 306k. Over at Talk Radio they’ve dropped back to 608k from 637k Q3 and 685k in Q2. These are the quarters when it’s been simulcasting with Talk TV.

TalkTV is mainly Talk Radio during the day and then it’s the shiny TV shows with Piers Morgan et al after 7pm. Whilst the telly figures haven’t set the world alight, the radio figures are even more disappointing. 7pm to 11pm on Talk Radio is now reaching 86.1k (down from Q3’s 117k and Q2’s 123k). A year ago it’s radio-only output was giving them 107k during that time-slot.

Radio 4 meanwhile pops back over the 10million mark, and a football-infused Five Live goes to 5,564 (up from 4,873k q-on-q and down from 5,887 y-o-y).

Asian Stations

Often unreported is the competition between Asian radio stations, particularly in London. So well done to Panjab Radio whose London numbers are up to 110k reach (vs 92k q-on-q and 58.7k y-o-y). Its total hours has also seen a big jump – to nearly 1.2m (which is nearly as many as Sunrise Radio and the two Lyca stations in London, combined). Whilst that may be a short-term big bump, the reach growth across the different platforms certainly means there’s some audience movement in that market. The historic big player in that market continues to be Sunrise Radio, with a London reach of 164k


I’ll leave it up to you to decide which stations you think are Stars, Cash Cows and Dogs – but I think we’re definitely over the more scatter-gun approach to spin-offs. I think groups perhaps need to be a bit freer with evolving/killing under-performers off, to give room for other low-cost stations to appear and try their luck.

I think we can also see what a challenge launching a new brand is. Times Radio and Talk Radio have lots of investment and are doing a good job content-wise for their respective audiences, but lack the audience success of Boom who are delivering significantly more hours on a fraction of the budget, but to an under-served group. I think Boom is likely to hit profitability faster than Times or Talk.


There should be a new Media Podcast out imminently, where I talk about RAJARs with Adam Bowie, plus all the other media headlines with Scott Bryan and the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt.

There’s a few quotes from me in the Telegraph’s piece about Spotify’s podcast talent changes.

I mentioned last week that I’m speaking at Adwanted’s The Future of Audio Europe event on March 1st. They’ve kindly given me a code to knock off 10% a ticket. It’s SPEAKERVIP.

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Who are the Stars, Dogs and Cash Cows?

Are Talent Transfers Really A Drain?

Apologies for the silence here on the newsletter, I’ve been a little unwell recently (details here). Hopefully my posting will become a little more regular this year.

There’s been a lot of discussion here in the UK about the ‘talent drain’ from the BBC to lots of other operators. Indeed I’ve talked about stations swaps and whether talent is in control. The discussions have been reignited with Ken Bruce announcing he’s leaving Europe’s most popular radio show at BBC Radio 2 to re-appear in the same slot at Greatest Hits Radio.

Why-o-why Ken, lots of Radio 2 listeners wail, eager to blame it on those dastardly BBC bosses.

To all intents and purposes, it seems Ken’s swift departure was some clever wooing by Bauer (where some old colleagues reside) and perhaps a perception from Radio 2 that he wasn’t going anywhere. I hear his move was more about work flexibility than it was about cold, hard, moolah.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s a useful reminder that looking after talent is a multi-dimensional game and requires real skill and understanding to maintain successful relationships.

Let’s also not forget the real reasons there’s so much chatter about BBC talent. Firstly, the BBC is a well-funded competitor to the newspaper groups who never liked their encroachment onto the web and that’s before you even start with any political views that their owners may have. They like to write knocking copy, and even if the copy doesn’t knock, then the headlines normally do.

Secondly the BBC’s talent relations has been incredibly strained by the requirement of the Conservative government that its talent fees are published. Not only is this a poacher’s charter, as declared by the Corporation when discussions over it began, it also is massively embarrassing for the talent on it.

The BBC has helped itself a lot by managing to bump off any BBC Studios people from the list (that’s the telly folk), but it is left with news, radio and sport people on there. Is there perhaps a link that it’s these people that have mainly been moving?

Finally though, the big shift is that for many employees in news, radio and sport, there hasn’t historically been many places to go. Commercial radio’s national reach was limited and there weren’t really many other people doing news and current affairs broadcasting at scale.

Nowadays though there’s lots of well-funded places that these people can go – outlets that need talent to help define their offerings. Times Radio, Virgin Radio, LBC, talkRADIO/TV provide nationwide coverage, growing listener figures and more cash. It also offers talent more freedom to earn. If you’re a news presenter you might like to chair a boring conference for £10k. If you’re at the BBC, the press-induced hassle makes you unlikely to accept, even if you would quite like a new bathroom.

In addition, there’s also the ability for talent to create their own podcasts and go direct to consumer (or via an ad network like Acast). They keep the ad money, the touring, the merchandise and have editorial freedom. For the right talent, matching their broadcast fees isn’t hard – and they’ll likely be working for a fraction of the time and corporate grief.

Problems for the BBC?

Does this talent exodus matter much to the BBC. Well, in PR terms it’s not a great story, but the scale of the corporation’s TV, radio and digital operations means there’s many many people who can fill the jobs of those disappearing.

Radio 2 can lose a million listeners between RAJAR quarters and it’s hardly noticeable. Chris Evans took around 750k off to Virgin, Graham Norton less than half a million. Great gets for those stations, but not really something that troubles their previous motherships. Indeed, the losses may shave some money off of dwindling budgets.


I often talk about how companies who had high barriers to entry for new competition often thought it was their own skill that was generating audience/profits, rather than it being because the barriers meant they had little meaningful competition.

Digital has, in every sector, destroyed many of the barriers and if not, has at least made them surmountable. I would hope that teams at the BBC realised that this change in circumstances means they have to think about how they deal with talent. Previously there was nowhere else for them to go, so some managers could get away with dealing them in, politely, a sub-optimal way.

Today, the skills around talent management – for both people in-front of, and behind the camera/microphone – probably requires some brushing up. People leave for may reasons, but great relationships can temper many moves.


Last week I also returned to the Media Podcast. It was the perfect time to do it, as it was our predictions special with guests  Faraz OsmanTara ConlanAnn CharlesCharlotte TobittJake KanterDan Taylor-WattAdam Bowie and Maggie Brown. Just search for “Matt Deegan’“ in your app of choice, or click this link.

I spoke about this very topic to The Telegraph, as did my old chum, James Cridland. You can read it here, paywall permitting.

Before Christmas I spoke to Jim Salveson at Sound Business, talking about Facebook and YouTube’s approach to podcasting.

I’m pleased to be speaking at Adwanted’s The Future of Audio Europe event on March 1st.

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With Ken off to Greatest Hits Radio is the BBC talent drain really a thing?

Being Unwell

This year I felt a bit tired. Post-pandemic and coming into London more, maybe I was just a bit unfit? I’d also had a really busy year. As well as all the regular stuff, I led on the deal to sell our Podcast Awards business to Haymarket and I got married too! Maybe it was all just a bit too much and I am just getting older after all.

Post-Honeymoon, I still had this nagging feeling, and so called my GP. My GP is an app, the pretty good GP at Hand from Babylon and a video-call later, they suggested I pop in for some blood tests at their sparkly centre at King’s Cross. No problem.

I stopped in, made my deposits, and then headed to the office for a catch-up and some Zooms before heading home.

Just as I was walking through my door I suddenly had a slightly panicked call from the blood test centre saying that I should really go to hospital very quickly. Turns out my HB (Haemoglobin) was 50, when it should be around 150.

So a visit to the hospital, and after a few days, they’d pumped three packs of new blood into me (thank you donors!) and a pack of iron too (which kind of looks like you’re getting a bag of HP Sauce put into you). I’d also been scheduled a couple of weeks later for an endoscopy and colonoscopy – a camera having a look into me from both ends.

Obviously these aren’t the most fun things to have done, but I would say if faced with it, it’s not actually as bad as it seems. Especially if you say yes to all the drugs. I chose not to watch-along in glorious technicolour on the big screens.

The results from that, though, were pretty surprising. My general thought was it was likely to be something like a bleeding ulcer. It turned out to be a diagnosis of colon cancer.

The doctor and a nurse told me the news a little after the camera work, in that hushed tone you’ve seen on a hundred TV dramas or heart-string pulling ads. I’m more of a make a joke person than a burst into tears one, but obviously there’s lots of things whirring in your mind. How bad is this? Terminally so? I’ve still got loads of stuff to do. You also think, god, I’ve got to tell my wife and family about it as well. Also at this point no one knows any of the actual useful details other than that there’s a problem.

The device they do the colonoscopy with is pretty multi-functional, so they do some snips so they can run some tests on it. You’re also booked in for a load of scans and more blood tests. And then depending on when the results come in and the proximity to a Wednesday (hospital admin day) you’ll then find out what’s next.

For me, less than a week later, it was confirmed that it was colon cancer, but there were also some things they wanted to double check on my liver – which didn’t sound the greatest news. Irrespective of what was happening with the liver, I’d be in for surgery within 10 days to remove the tumour and a chunk of my colon.

The most calming aspect of all of this news was how unfazed the impressive surgeon was about the actual operation. It would be her directing a robot for three hours and then about a week in hospital recovering. One of three that day she was doing. Another week later we’d find out a bit more of what was going on in there and whether there would be any additional work to be done.

As I gradually came around later that October afternoon and evening, the pain drugs were definitely helping even if I was a little grumpy and groggy. Staying in hospital is never fun, particularly when you’re sore. My stay was massively enhanced by some expensive Sony noise-cancelling headphones – both to sleep, and to opt-out of hearing my neighbours’ medical discussions. I also got a new belly button (as they cut down from it to remove the tumour).

Less than a week later I was home, with encouragement to be up and about. Quite literally no rest for the wicked.

A few days later and we were back at the hospital getting the results of the operation. Tumour and area around it removed, with no indication from blood vessels or nearby lymph nodes that there had been any spread. Liver turned out fine after all. Phew. Looking at the tumour they removed however, two out of 24 lymph nodes has something in them.

Basically overall it was pretty good news, all low risk now, but the insurance policy, because of the lymph nodes issue, is to have three months of chemotherapy just to make sure. This started a couple of weeks ago. It has not been a breeze, but my body is starting to get used to it.

Something I feel very fortunate for is that diagnosis to removal was less than two months. There are lots of stories at the moment about NHS waiting lists, but for me it’s been incredibly swift and all the many elements have been really efficient. Also, it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself too much when you’re spending time in hospital next to others who have it all much much worse.

The two big things that have struck me are around people and disruption.

Telling people the news is quite tough. Not because it’s hard to say anything, but because you then take on some of their worry and, whilst it’s nice that people care so much, it sort of generates more of an overhead in your own thoughts, when you have quite a bit to be thinking about yourself. It’s partly why I haven’t really talked about this up until now.

The second is obviously how disruptive it can be to your life, especially when people rely on you for very normal things like jobs! Overall I haven’t really been that unwell, but there are moments when you have a bad day, are just really tired or have medical-related appointments at short notice – which makes it really difficult to be consistent for anyone else. I’ve been very fortunate that the Folder and Podcast Awards teams have picked up so much in my absence (Macmillan, by the way provide grants to cancer sufferers who aren’t so lucky and you can donate and support that here). And obviously Annabel at home has had lots of worry and has had do to some heavy lifting – quite literally in some cases as I’m not allowed to pick heavy things up.

So the tl;dr is – got colon cancer. Had it all removed. Fortunate it hasn’t spread. Just started three months of chemo. Hopefully more back to normal in March.

RAJAR Q3/2022

Yes, it’s that time again – the latest radio audience figures for the UK are out. Unfortunately I haven’t been around for much of today, so I haven’t been able to have a good look at them. However, not wanting to let you down, I’ve asked guest blogger Lloydie James Lloyd to give you a sense of what’s been happening.

I’ve known Lloydie for a long time and he’s had stints at the BBC and commercial radio. As well as being the Content Director for our Fun Kids brand, he also combines his radio knowledge with his skills as a professional improv performer to help organisations collaborate more effectively. He’s also, handily, as much a RAJAR obsessive as I am. You can follow him on twitter here.

A period of change…

Life moves pretty fast, and this year has seen an incredible amount of change. This RAJAR survey period began one monarch, two prime ministers and three chancellors ago. It doesn’t take into account Steve Wright leaving Radio 2 and Scott Mills last show on Radio One happened three weeks before the end of this survey. This might be the latest survey, but the period it covers seems like ages ago.

This survey is the first time since the pandemic that we can do a year on year comparison. That seems a very seductive thing to do, were it not for the fact that a year ago, we were still emerging from Covid restrictions. Most of us were still working from home and entertainment venues like theatres were working out distancing and ventilation. People’s life circumstances both situationally and economically were very different a year ago and they were certainly staying at home more in July 2021 than they were in July this year.

After a drop in radio listening last survey, all radio reach is back up from 88% to 89% of the population – a total of 49.67m listeners. It’s interesting to note that Commercial Radio has led this increase with its reach up from 68% of 15-44s to 71% and from 62% to 66% of people aged 45 plus. The BBC on the other hand has remained relatively static in reach.

Within the commercial sector, Global and Bauer saw increases to their “total listeners” figures, with Bauer closing the gap slightly between them and Global’s number one position.

Speech and News Channels

As a news and politics junkie, this year has had a flurry of stories for me to feast on. This survey had the end days of Johnson’s turn at Prime Minster, the leadership race to replace him and the beginnings of the Liz Truss government (although not the “mini budget” which caused its eventual demise). This period also covers the death of Queen Elizabeth II and radio’s response to that historic event.

What is interesting to me is most of the news and talk stations appear to have had a more challenging book – with the exception of GB News which has put on 138k listeners. So, despite listening to radio as a whole being up, LBC, TalkRADIO, Times Radio, Radio 4 and BBC Five Live have all seen a decline this book.

There could be many reasons for this but I’m mindful it was the first summer in a couple of years where we were allowed to socialise properly. Even my inner politics nerd can understand why people might prefer a music channel at their barbecue to an in-depth analysis of the macroeconomic policies of Tory leadership candidates. There may be many other reasons for the drop but I’d be surprised if these dips were permanent.

Music Stations – The Younger Audiences

There’s a fair bit of good news around for music stations, especially quarter on quarter. The younger focused stations –  Capital, Radio 1, Kiss, Hits network – all went up quarter on quarter. CHR stations tend to do very well in summer books so perhaps this was a reflection of that, but there have been jitters in the UK and around the world about how to retain younger audiences. This book certainly shows CHR stations are far from dead yet – and the overall number of 15-24s listening to the radio appears to have recovered significantly for now at least.

I’m sure there will be some happy (and probably relived) faces at Radio 1. They have taken a bit of a hit in the last few books but they are up 670,000 listeners this quarter. Of course the recent schedule changes don’t really factor into this survey so it will be interesting to see how their audience reacts to those, but for now, a welcome increase in listener numbers following some difficult quarters.

The Hits Network has done particularly well quarter on quarter adding over 300,000 listeners and 1.9m listener hours. It’s worth noting that one station in that network has done especially well, with Wave 105 adding a huge 71,000 listeners alone. That’s a 23% increase in reach for the south coast station.

Looking year on year for is a more mixed picture for all the above music stations with Hits Network up nearly 7% in reach, Radio One dropping just over 1% in reach, Kiss down nearly 2% in reach and Capital Network down 12% in reach. But like I said, we are comparing two very different years so some pinches of salt undoubtedly need adding here.

Music Stations – The Older Audiences

There’s also some good news for stations targeting an audience over 45. I’ve already added pinches of salt to year on year comparisons – and rightly so I feel, but it’s hard to ignore Boom Radio’s continued growth with it now pulling in 443,000 listeners per week. Year on year the station is up just over 90% in reach and an incredible 118% in hours. Looking quarter on quarter they are up 32% in reach and 25% in hours.

Smooth Radio is up quarter on quarter but back a touch year on year and Gold has had a very good book with reach up nearly 30% year on year and hours up 40%.

Radio Two on the other hand is down very slightly quarter on quarter and year on year, although not by very much. We shall see if recent changes will impact that in either direction.

Greatest Hits network has fared less well quarter on quarter with a drop in all measures but has grown year on year.

Local and National

BBC Local Radio adds over 150,000 listeners quarter on quarter – and that’s before all the attention they got from their Liz Truss conference interviews (which must have given BBC engineers jittery moments, wondering if the silence detectors would go off during those long pauses before answers). Although BBC Local Radio is down significantly year on year, it’s worth remembering they had a ‘pandemic bounce’ as people tuned in for local information. This Q3 is better than Q3 2019 and comparable with Q3 2018. The BBC network of local stations has an impressive 7.8m listeners every week.

The stations outside London where Capital and Heart are networked have done less well than their London counterparts this time around. Most appear to be down, some quite considerably. It’s hard to compare their figures directly with Heart and Capital London as most of the former are on half year averages where as the London stations are figures for three months of fieldwork. It would also be a little too simplistic to conclude it’s ‘because they’re not local anymore’ but it does provide some food for thought ahead of any potential further deregulation.

Other notable movements

Magic Network and Magic London are both down and have had a tough book. I note that in London, Greatest Hits is up just over 300k year on year while Magic is down just over 300k year on year.

Kiss London goes back above the one million listeners mark after slipping last book. A nearly 9% increase in listeners and over 400,000 hours.

Smiles at Global HQ as Heart Brand UK moves past the 10 million mark with 10.1m listeners and as Radio X moves very close to the 2m mark with 1.970m

Virgin Radio Network remains pretty static. The main station seems to have gone down a touch this time around but the other stations in the Virgin stable have mitigated much of that. Matt mentioned in his Q2 blog that Virgin might be facing a marketing issue rather than a product issue and I tend to agree. There’s a lot of good talent there on both sides of the microphone.

That’s it for my thoughts – the comments are very much open for yours. Normal service should be resumed next quarter when Matt returns and big thanks to him for entrusting me to deputise.

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The latest on the UK’s radio audience figures

Launching a new podcast

Yesterday, a new daily podcast launched – The News Agents, presented by Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall, produced by Dino Sofos’ Persephonica and bankrolled by Global, the UK’s biggest commercial radio broadcaster.

There’s no doubt this is a big money launch. It’s been reported that Maitlis and Sopel have been paid in excess of £300k, Goodall likely not far behind. There’s a decent sized team working on it, and new studios are being built for it too. The year one spend is likely easily in excess of £1m. This is a big launch.

Why are Global bothering? Probably a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m sure they’re trying to build a profitable podcast. They have a successful sales team and a podcast business unit to drive revenue. They also have in the radio, their billboards and the talent they’ve hired, the ability to market the show. It’s taken a swift route to number one of the momentum-driven Apple Podcasts chart. We’ll see how long it can stay there.

It’s also a premium podcast to use to promote Global’s own app – the Global Player. The branding connected to is just that, rather than LBC, for example. I’m sure part of the launch is also a little bit of brand positioning for Global too – that they can be the home of high end journalism and not just middle-of-the-road music radio.

The show’s podcast launch today is complimented by video on third-party platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

To me, the opportunity lies in The News Agents being a distinct news brand, rather than just ‘a podcast’. A daily show drives a lot of content that can be converted for social, but can these destinations live beyond the show, covering the news in a News Agents ‘style’? Can they build something that has cut through to the public and is a brand of news of its own?


I think the launch has been done in a different way to many new podcast debuts. Whilst yesterday was the launch episode, there’s actually been three episodes to get there. The first was your regular feed-warmer with a description of what they’d be doing. The second was a short – 7min – chat amongst the team and then third was a post-game on Maitlis’ MacTaggart speech as well as the full speech too.

I think this is a good way to start a new show. Firstly, it takes the pressure out of episode one, as there’s already some content on the channel. It’s also a useful way to show that the podcast isn’t going to be tightly formatted. The Maitlis speech episode was in the back of a cab. There’s also a benefit for early subscribers – mainly fans of the talent – rewarding them with some content. Finally, it’s useful for the Apple chart, as mini-drops help build momentum and keeps the show at the top of the charts during launch week. An important promotional spot in its own right.

The show also benefited from Emily Mailtlis’ Mactaggart speech which generated lots of discussion – both positive and negative – but acted as a way to re-introduce her after a Summer off.

The Show

What was episode 1 proper, like? Pretty good. As always, it’s mad to judge anything by its first episode, but it can be an indicator of the direction of travel.

The show is choosing to pick one topical topic to concentrate on each episode, this is couched in “listeners tell us what we should cover”. Episode 1 kicked off with the “Trump Raid”, explaining the background and then featuring short guest interviews with ex-Trump White House folks Anthony Scaramucci and Mick Mulvaney (ex Chief of Staff). Scaramucci is an entertaining relatively fair-minded, now anti-Trump bod, Mulvaney is re-inventing himself as a right of centre media commentator, after inking a deal with CBS. They also had a more traditionally democratic academic, Randy Zelin, with experience in white collar crime cases.

It was nice that the guests were an additive to the programme, rather than them being the focus – the hosts are clearly that.

If I was being picky, there was not much context setting for who the hosts are – there was no introduction of Maitlis and Sopel until the pre-rec’d introduction about 3mins. Perhaps most listeners would know who they are – but not everyone. We also had the topic set up and then re-setup with the caller.

On role definition, there was an attempt to position Lewis as the ‘fact/explanation’ guy – though it was skipped over a little bit. I think there’s probably some work to do make that more obvious, especially when the three of them are chatting.

I think part of the reason that The Rest is Politics has been so successful is that Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart have great role definition, which really support the show’s format and help to make it easy to listen to.

Of course, for the News Agents, we have the opportunity to see the hosts’ relationships evolve naturally over the episodes – and there will be five a week to do just that.


What does success look like for a show like this? It probably needs to get to 100k UK listens a day. On podcast economics – that sized audience, with three ads in the podcast, a £20 CPM and 70% sell-though rate could net Global around £1m/year.

In The Times piece with producer Dino Sofos he says: “We’ve got an idea of what Americast got and if we weren’t getting the same as that I’d be disappointed.” Americast was the fifth most popular BBC podcast in 2021.

Interestingly, the BBC used yesterday to announce that Americast is back with a new line-up.

I think lots of people will be looking at how The News Agents does when thinking about their own podcast economics and perhaps the investment needed in the hope of launching a hit show.

I think it also shows the ambition of Global in the podcast market. In the Apple Podcasts Top 200, alongside The News Agents is the Wittering Whitehalls, Spencer and Vogue, My Therapist Ghosted Me, James O’Brien’s Full Disclosure, Luanna, Restless Natives, Never Have I Ever and Chris Moyles – which is not a bad showing – and makes them one of few networks with a decent number of hit shows.

I’m hoping to catch-up with producer Dino Sofos on this week’s Media Podcast, so do subscribe to tune-in.


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Should we be following The News Agents’ lead?

In praise of… Scott Mills

It’s the last week of Scott Mills afternoon show on BBC Radio 1. He has not had a bad innings at the station with a 24-year run from October 1998 to today.

Staying on a youth-focused station for so long (aged 25 to 49) is no mean feat. Now, your age isn’t wasn’t signifies how long you get to stay somewhere, it’s your focus on relating to the station’s target audience.

A previous controller of Radio 1, Andy Parfitt, described the station as a conveyor belt of talent. The good ones could keep jumping back delaying the inevitable time they fall off the end. Scott seems to have been a championship player.

Most DJs, irrespective of their age, just get sick of the station that they’re on. Or have a desire to be somewhere else. Listening in I never really got that with Scott. He’s clearly worked very hard, alongside his team, to reimagine his show regularly, staying focused on delivering for the target audience. It’s something that’s incredibly hard to do. Most DJs have a somewhat singular act that stays with them – and it’s the audience that has to get used to it. Again, not the case with Scott.

There’s four elements that I think have made the show, and him as a DJ so successful:

A fundamental understanding of the rhythm of pop radio. His speech breaks are always the appropriate length for the content. He’s not afraid of short ones if it gives pace or builds anticipation. He can also handle longer form segments, but they’re usually focused to remove the extraneous fluff.

Great features. Features can be difficult on a younger-focused pop station. Capital chooses not to really have any in daytime. The balance is always tune out vs appointment to listen. Are they strong enough to keep people listening and make a habit. Scott’s had a huge number over the years including Flirt Divert, 24 Years at the Tap End and Innuendo Bingo. Knowing when to keep or kill them is also vital.

Also included is the sister of the feature, the catchphrase. Balancing these to be inclusive, rather than exclusive is pretty tough. “It’s only bley Friday” and “Love you bye” have become synonymous (for a time).

Storylines. On Radio 1 he was one of the first people to properly take listeners on a content journey over a week (or longer). A mini short-term soap opera with an enjoyable resolution. Be that the Scott Mils Bridge, a live-stream from his house for a week or creating Scott Mills The Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Partners in crime. Staying relevant or reaching the breadth of your audience can often be helped by co-presenters and side-kicks. This relationship is also pretty fraught as egos are forced to share their airwaves. Scott’s consistently enhanced his show with team members, from Chappers to Laura to now 10 years with Chris Stark. Helping co-hosts be successful always reflects well on the anchor. Something he seems to always have been generous with.

If you want a great example of how Scott does a brilliant job, do listen back to Monday 8th August’s episode on BBC Sounds. It’s an edition that I just managed to catch on that day. I’m sure there’s better shows, and worse ones, but listening in to that random pick – there’s so much in it that any budding radio DJ or producer should pay attention to.

Things I noticed in the first hour:

Kicks off with a good character definition montage of the two of them and then a scene-setter – they’re doing the show from Newquay. It’s a link less than 20 secs.

Two songs back to back and then another 20 seconder with some listener voice notes and an appeal for more.

A reset that they’re leaving Radio 1 and this was a core place for their relationship, a nice sense of place for Newquay with a good line “if Newquay was on a dating app, what I can see would be the profile picture”. A reflect on the weather and a gag about Scott providing a 50 or a 30 factor sun cream for the team – playing to his position as the show’s ‘mum’. A quick shout of “this is a work event” into the next tune.

A great story about travelling down, via Par, and their uselessness getting some food with some great detail that the only place that would serve them had a weird playlist of “a Callum Scott megamix and the Kids Bop version of Justin Bieber”. Then into Scott always providing an itinerary for a trip (again Mum-style character) giving him the opportunity to mention loads of local place names and repeat, a now recurring joke, that it’s not a holiday but a ‘“work event”. Finally finishes with a great audio gag “and if all goes to plan, Senior Dicks” (say it out loud) before straight into a song.

We’re 23mins in so far. Some speedier links and some segues either side of the news means the next speech break is at 41mins in and we’re doing listener mentions asking Scott to play in a local Rugby team. There’s then a setup, and first execution, for ‘Stupid Street’ a returning feature about rubbish responses to vox pop questions with loads of real-people audio. Its 6mins in length – pretty long, but it’s engaging with lots of content and a variety of voices.

Another couple of songs and a reminiscence link, which again re-affirms why they’re in Newquay and a pick up of listener responses to Stupid Street before a second hit – all around 4 mins.

A couple more tunes and its the end of the hour – all that content and they still got 14 songs away. Pretty good! It’s entertaining, sharp, funny, there’s production in the Stupid Street voxes and there’s really good writing – the itinerary, the recall of the music in the trip – it’s prepared material used in an effortless way. But they’re not over-prepared, there’s room for listener comments to add to what they have planned, plus still reflect a sense of day too. To me, it’s a pretty perfect hour of entertaining radio.

Scott now moves on to Radio 2, taking over from Steve Wright. Whilst different in style, they both share a certain artistry in how they structure their shows. In adjusting what he does for a different audience, I’m sure it will be a task that Scott relishes. It help he’s now in the target group, rather than out of it. But I think the last 24 years shows he’ll rise to the challenge.


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Why has he stayed at the top of his game?

RAJAR Q2/2022

Another quarter, and another deluge of data. With both Radio Today and Adam Bowie taking a Summer break, you’re stuck with my analysis! Yes, it’s RAJAR day – the UK radio ratings are out. For overseas visitors there’s going to be some specifics about radio stations you’ve never heard of, but taken together it’s an interesting snapshot of changing listener behaviour and hopefully that’s useful wherever you are in the world.

And snapshot is the right word. This captures a moment in time. With stations either reporting on 3 months of data, half a year of it, or a full year, the insights roll together listener consumption. It’s always the thing to slag off RAJAR, where the majority of listeners record their listening 15 minutes by 15 minutes over a week – either on paper, on their phone or on the PC. However that data is now combined with apps that hear what you hear and some panels too. Taken together, they’ve included over 40,000 people this quarter – a survey bigger than the UK election exit poll. If you’re a national station, it’s pretty robust! And one of the ways you can see the robustness, is that though the vast majority of respondents change each quarter, the figures stay pretty similar.

This RAJAR there’s quite a few stations that have dropped down, now whilst this may be down to listeners’ habits it could also be down to the big number at the top – that’s total UK radio listening. Since RAJAR returned after the pandemic, total UK listening has been pretty consistent – 49.4m, 49.4m, 49.7m people tuned in each week – but this time it’s dropped 750k to 48.9m. So everyone is sort of down before they’ve started. They’re playing in a smaller pool.

This drop isn’t massively demographically driven. Quarter on quarter 15-24s are down a bit, but 65 plusses are down some more.

Now, in RAJAR, trends are what you want to really look at, rather than snapshots. This drop in all listening might be a blip, or the start of a trend. We won’t know until we’ve got more data in the future.

The Young

Some other broad radio facts, that still surprise people.

Demographically there is no massive decline in the number of young people listening to the radio. Here’s radio reach across different demographics (bear in mind there was a methodology change in Q3/2021 and a pandemic sized gap before it).

It’s down a bit, but isn’t precipitous. Where there is more of a marked change is in the amount they listen to:

Three years ago, 15-24s listened to 85m hours, now it’s 65m. 25-34s listened to 126m hours, now it’s 115m. The charts would suggest that perhaps the drops may have levelled off.

Digital Listening

As a country, we listen to radio predominantly digitally.

AM and FM radio is consumed by 30.6m people, DAB digital radio 32.4m people, and streamed radio by 20m. If you combine analogue vs all the digital platforms, analogue is the aforementioned 30.6m and digital has 40.7m listeners.

When we look at the volume of radio people listen to – it’s share – digital radio accounts for 67.6% of their hours listened to (broken-down DAB: 40.8%, Streaming: 22.3% and DTV: 4.5%) and analogue is the remainder – just 32.4%.

The Big Commercial Stations

The key change seems to have been the recovery and consolidation of Bauer’s Hits Radio network – this includes Hits Radio, the old Bauer ILRs, the ones they acquired and Gem. They’re now bigger than Capital in reach and hours, and Heart in hours too. A big success for them. Greatest Hits is also giving Smooth a run for its money. It’s closing in on reach and pretty neck and neck on hours. Sat between Heart and Smooth, GHR seems to have blown a bit of a hole in both.

Big Commercial Networks

Most of the stations above are part of broader brand networks which includes spin-off services. Heart includes Heart 90s etc, and Hits Radio Brand includes Hits Radio and Greatest Hits Radio networks. Historically the network effect has given all the networks growth, as digital listening has risen and new launches have appeared. As digital penetration is starting to max out though, this benefit is receding.

I would probably wager that Hits & Greatest Hits has enjoyed some success partly as they’ve stabilised relatively newly launched products, but also through introducing products with content as marketing (adding Simon Mayo to GHR) and spending some money on general marketing too. Meanwhile the digital spin offs have little in the way of talent or specific marketing. Their uniqueness and musical focus in the market was their selling point, but perhaps we’ve reached the limit of any growth that can deliver now.


Of course, the brand battle is important, but the big groups are mostly concentrating on their share of the commercial market and how many impacts they can deliver national advertisers. Over the last year Global’s added around 6m hours and Bauer’s added 8m, whilst Wireless has stayed broadly the same. For all three groups, they’re reaching a similar number of listeners they did 12 months ago.

Wireless Group

Over at News UK, it’s interesting to look at their more recent station launches.

Times Radio’s really bounced around reach-wise, whilst pretty stable in hours. This probably suggests its found a core audience but isn’t really growing that fast. Talk Radio on the other hand is seeing steady growth quarter on quarter. After years of not really knowing what it was, it’s ideologically a pretty consistent product now and is definitely building an audience.

Talk made a big change to its evening programming when merging with Talk TV, which launched at the end of April. Now that’s not entirely shown in this data, as Talk rolls its data for six months, so we’re seeing average figures from Jan to June. However, having a sneaky look into the system suggests that the new evening shows are having a positive effect for Talk Radio – we’ll see the scale of that next quarter.

Virgin Radio’s decline will be disappointing after the talent investment that it has seen. I see very little marketing for the station and things that Chris Evans or Graham Norton do, don’t seem to have much cut through to non-listeners. I think it’s predominantly a PR & Marketing problem, rather than a content issue – though some of that does go hand in hand.


Nationally the BBC’s stations are, in the most part, remarkably stable. Taking an ongoing hit has been Radio 1. Having a quick look at other youth stations, Capital is following a similar pattern, whilst the slightly more specialist stations are a little more consistent.

Pop music flow for younger audiences is very split at the moment. Research is tending to suggest people are part of more specific genre tribes. When you combine these different genre types, that’s annoying to listeners, they like one, but not the other. This poses more of a challenge for stations like Radio 1 or Capital which have previously been about mixing pop genres.

The other BBC station that faces challenges is Five Live. Its combination of news and sport has always been slightly annoying for people who are either in the news or sport camp, the other one is always seen to be interfering in what they like. I think this is more of an issue now, when there’s stations like Times, LBC or Talk Radio that can scratch the news itch, and a more consistent talkSPORT and talkSPORT2 seemingly with an ever increasing range of sports rights that can do sport pretty well too.

Internally the BBC have wanted to split Five Live into two stations but have been stymied by regulation (and pressure from competitors). With the upcoming switch off of Five Live’s AM service and its re-emergence as a digital only brand, is it time for Sports Extra to become a full time Five Live Sport, and the regular Five Live to becomes Five Live News?

Regional Shows

We’re probably moving closer to some further deregulation of commercial radio. A reminder that it’s the government’s intention to remove most programme-related regulation, so networks would be free to network all programming, providing they have a commitment to localised news and travel. Of course the government is in flux at the moment, but we could see that legislation next year. Whether the radio groups that have local shows will remove them is still an unknown. Whilst the opportunities for costs savings are there, having regional shows to deliver more localised S&P is seen as valuable for the relative cost, particularly now many stations have been regionalised. I thought it might be interesting to look at the scale of some of these shows.

The London shows aren’t as strong as you would assume, though clearly they have more competition in those markets. The share figures in some of the regional markets are also pretty impressive for the localised shows. Now we don’t know what putting a ‘high quality national’ show in the regions could do to ratings – good or bad. But if you were looking at some of these you maybe wouldn’t want to mess too much with the big ones.

Rich Clarke’s Drive show in the South on Heart currently beats every regional drive and breakfast show across Capital, Smooth and Heart, other than Heart London (it’s even got a bigger reach than Capital London Drive). It’s also a reminder how strong the Smooth breakfast shows are around the country.

That’s it for my quick look through. If you’ve noticed something interesting, why not leave it in the comments.

I’m able to do all of this as a subscriber to Octagon, from Hallett Arendt, which is my invaluable RAJAR analysis tool.

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Who’s up and who’s down?

In Praise of the Story Arc

Most of what we all do is the day to day. It’s somewhat repetitive. But often it’s the consistency that your listeners/customers/users buy into. If someone likes your politics podcast and then one day it’s all about Love Island, they would be a bit shocked. Similarly with radio shows, benchmarks in a breakfast show are essential as people arrange their routine around your features. It’s mad when you think about it. But it’s the consistency that bends the listener to your will. If a family know to be in the car on the way to school when you do the Secret Sound, you can’t keep moving it around.

However, saying all that, mixing things up a little is never a bad thing. Providing there’s context for it. You can break the rules to mix things up if you understand the rules and why they are there. If you know about your listener, care about how they use you and provide all the right context, there’s nothing to stop you doing new, fun and special things.

The UK’s Radio 1 had recently gone off-plan and done something special, a stunt with their breakfast DJ, Greg James. The station sent Greg off to Brighton on Monday 18th July and stole his breakfast show off him. The only way he could win it back was to find 20 jigsaw pieces that would form the Radio 1 logo. They were hidden around the UK and listeners had to find them and transport them to Brighton. It took them six days to complete it.

Greg remained ‘on’ the breakfast show as a guest across the week (Scott Mills and Chris Stark took over) and the jigsaw piece discovery ran across daytimes each day.

Radio 1 partly choose this week as they understand their listeners – as for many it’s the start of the school holidays. This means a decent chunk of their audience’s schedule shifts, and that they’re around to potentially listen more and join in. Radio 1 has also changed quite a bit of their schedule recently with lots of new people. This was a good opportunity to introduce them through the different challenges.

Throughout the week the main structure of the radio station stayed the same. Mostly the same people, on at the same time, doing their regular things. But that was overlayed with a story that listeners could follow along with.

The producer, Chris Sawyer, who designed much of it, explains their planning in a recent tweet thread.

What I like about it is that there was a story arc. They knew mostly what would happen over the week, with key moments planned out, but it also had enough ‘give’ to allow some surprises (to everyone) along the way.

The other great story arc over the past couple of weeks is that of the Lionesses. As a football tournament it has a natural story – how far will they go, but layered on top was that the fact this was the England Women’s team playing against the well-worn storyline of the country’s decades long failure to take home a trophy – until now. The end point is a match against long-time rivals Germany, that goes to extra time – and when we would usually fail at likely penalties, the team instead won! Extra time on the arc was the great invaded press-conference and a Trafalgar Square finish.

For me the key media thing with any good story arc, is that it needs to reinforce your core brand. Radio 1’s puzzle leaned into the presenters, the listeners and doing a fun thing together (which is much of their programming). The Euros success clearly delivered on the brand they wanted it to be, and has obviously done a great job of rounding out a number of years of building for the Women’s Team.

Over in politics-land the Conservative Leadership battle is a great example of zero forethought in building a compelling narrative and storyline for the candidates (or the party).

The inevitable defenestration of Boris Johnson still seemed to leave challengers a little on the hoof, even when they had registered their domain names and made their videos in the previous months.

The clash of the competitors instantly meant any benefits their history had, or ‘successes’ of the previous administration were immediately trashed. The ‘blue on blue’ action left somewhat bruised competitors. The Labour Party’s video using their own words to demonstrate how bad a job the Tories had done over 12 years is telling:

Down to the final two, they now have six weeks of time that is unlikely to have any pre-planned moments. The hustings process is repetitive and the competitors will continue to clash. At the same time they have to target their policies at a small sub-demographic (old, white, mostly male Conservative party members) that’s not representative of the country, or the people they need to keep on board (red wall folk).

It’s like most political campaigns that you see in America, where Republicans go hard right to win a primary and then rush to the centre to try and win over their local area. The trouble for Liz and Rishi is the victor will have strongly positioned themselves in a place that’s harder to win a General Election.

Fundamentally they are not thinking about their core audience. Their ‘doing something different’ (campaigning etc) doesn’t re-enforce their brand values, it drags away from it. Non-political centrists who didn’t mind Rishi now get ten weeks of him as a hard-right figure. All the work he put into his previous brand, signatures on social media and all that, has been superseded by being off-message for over two months.

If Liz Truss wins, at the next election, all the Labour party comms will be her own words saying that the government (that she was one of the longest serving ministers in) had done a bad job of loads of things.

All of which is a long way of saying how consistency is essential to build audiences, and if you break away from that, it’s got to be true to your brand and your listeners.

Podcast Fun

It’s been a busy time at Podcast Awards HQ. The British Podcast Awards was a huge success, crowning lots of brilliant winners, including the BBC World Service’s Dear Daughter as Podcast of the Year. Idris Elba even turned up!

Over in Ireland, we announced the nominees for the inaugural Irish Podcast Awards. Again, a great list of shows to check out if you want to freshen up your podcatcher. Tickets are now on sale for the ceremony on Friday 16th September in Dublin.

AND, we’re now firmly into Australian Podcast Awards planning. I know there are lots of Australian followers here, if you want to get involved or your company fancies partnering, get in touch by hitting reply and we’ll tell you more.

Spotify’s Rowan Collinson speaking at Grow

The day before the British Podcast Awards we held a new conference event – Grow. It brought together about 200 people looking to grow their podcast with loads of great speakers from Apple, Acast, Audiboom, Spotify as well as production companies and entrepreneurs. It was a great day.

If you missed it, the next big conference is going to be Podcast Day 24. On October 4th there will be in-person events in Sydney, London and New York. As part of your ticket you’ll also get access to videos of all of the sessions worldwide.

The Coronacast session from Podcast Day 24 in Australia, last year.

We did the first Podcast Day 24 last year and it was an amazing bunch of speakers and sessions. We’ve announced a few of the speakers, with lots more great people to announce.

We’re expecting most of it to sell out, but you can grab an earlybird ticket for the next two weeks. If you want to know what’s happening in podcasting in your territory, and around the world, you need to come along. You’ll save £100 if you buy your ticket now.

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Why story planning is essential for success

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