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