RAJAR Q2/2019 – Disappointment Haunted All My Dreams

RAJAR can be a cruel mistress. Whilst established stations can, some what, coast from past glories, new stations on the survey are thrust into the limelight whether they’re ready for it or not.

In the old days of course, a new station launch was a thing of excitement. The local newspaper would splash you on the front page and its photographer would have encouraged you to proffer some CDs, wearing headphones, with a selection of balloons framing you. The result – 20% reach for you banging out today’s best mix.

Today, your launch will not lead the local paper. Which has probably closed down. And your listeners already happily have the choice of around 80 stations on digital radio, which for many, is fixed to Kisstory, 6Music or still, amazingly, Radio 4.

Today’s RAJAR shows us data from two new launches – Scala Radio and Country Hits Radio, the beginnings of Global’s national breakfast strategy and the settling waves from the big changes in Q1 – Evans/Ball et al.

I imagine the folks at Scala are somewhat disappointed by a weekly reach of 258,000 listeners, and their big signing Simon Mayo pulling in 134,100. The good news is that he’s pretty essential – delivering 51% of the station’s cume, the bad being, well, less listeners than a jukebox like Magic Chilled (329k).

I enjoy listening to Scala. There’s obvious effort and forethought and an aim to do some different. Its challenge is explaining why someone should tune in. A station for people surprised to realise they quite like classical music seems a communication challenge.

Bauer’s Country Hits Radio on the other hand probably exceeded expectations. Its execution, and budget, was not in the Scala range and it’s distribution is patchy at the moment – but a similar audience delivery at 208,000 is pretty good. Its competition is from homegrown Chris Country, who are available in some regions in the UK, but only measure on RAJAR in London. If we look at that London fight, Chris Country delivers 23.4k reach vs Country Hits’ 25.9k – pretty close. However in hours, Chris Country delivers 223k vs Country Hits’ 67.8k. It’ll be interesting to see as Bauer’s station grows whether it can build the loyalty that Chris has conjured over the past few years.

With all new launches what I mainly look at, of course, is how it compares with my own station, Fun Kids. As I often mention, RAJAR doesn’t measure under 10s, which is frustrating for a station who’s core audience is below that! As such we just RAJAR our national station in the capital.

Therefore it’s pleasing to see Fun Kids (10+) in London is bigger than Scala Radio, Country Hits and Chris Country (as well as Virgin Anthems, Virgin Chilled, The Arrow, Kerrang, Greatest Hits, Jack Radio and Union Jack and more). Just think where we’d be if we measured the actual target audience too! Anyway, I digress.

It’s a bit early for RAJAR to fully reflect Capital’s removal of local breakfast shows and replacement with Roman, Vick and Sonny, particularly as many of the stations are RAJAR’d over half or a full year. For anoraks rubbing their hands with glee, I’m afraid both the regular numbers and the forced three monthlies that the industry can see, doesn’t show any major changes or audience exodus.

The big changes last quarter was Chris Evans’ jump to Virgin and Zoe Ball’s new appointment at Radio 2. It was pretty good news for everyone – Evans launched with a psychologically important 1m listeners, and Zoe maintaining Evans’ high water mark.

This time around, well, the dust has settled, and it’s not great news for Radio 2, who have seen their reach drop quarter on quarter from 15.3m to 14.5m, their lowest headline figure since at least 2013. On breakfast its hit 8.2m (down from 9.0m in the previous quarter), the lowest figure for at least ten years.

But Zoe’s listeners haven’t disappeared off to Chris Evans, who increased his numbers, but only from 1.04m to 1.10m across the Virgin Radio network. Indeed, the main Virgin Radio’s growth from 1.3m to 1.5m shows how outside of Breakfast, listeners are joining the station.

Virgin Radio’s owners, the Wireless Group – a part of News UK – has seen, this quarter a transition from a mixed local and national broadcaster to a predominantly national group in the mainland UK, following the sale of their local stations to Bauer (CMA willing). They had around a million local listeners contributing 10m hours to the group, but post-sale the growth of their national stations has meant the group is now delivering its biggest ever audiences.

Whilst they go national, some operators are doubling down on local. Nation Broadcasting have picked up some more local stations as Bauer have disposed of some assets to smooth their regulatory glide path. It’s probably too early to see what Nation will do with KCFM, Breeze and Sam South Coast, but the news from their core local Welsh stations is less than optimal. Radio Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Bridge and Swansea Bay have seen their reach and hours drop both quarter on quarter and year on year. Some precipitously.

As is often the case in Q2, digital radio listening has dropped back a little. It now deliver 56% of all radio listening, rather than 56.4% last quarter. Year on year though, it’s up from 50.2%.

It did make me look at the reach figures for digital radio though. 72% of radio listeners listen to analogue radio each week, but 74% of radio listeners choose digital. We are definitely in a post-analogue radio world now.

Post-Christmas we’ve also seen a change in digital radio consumption, with internet radio listening, something that’s always been a laggard, suddenly taking a up-swing. In Q4/2018 it accounted for a 9.4% share of listening, Q1/2019 saw it leap up to 11.0%, and now it’s up to 12.5%. It would be hard to disagree that this has been fuelled by the rise of smart speakers.

All this shows how the more competitive market is making all stations – big and small – think about how they communicate and compete.

Adam Bowie has more detail about individual station breakdowns.