And He’s Just Ken

I always use Hallett Arendt’s Octagon tool for my RAJAR analysis. Get in touch with them if you want to analyse all the data too.

Here in the UK, a mild-mannered middle-of-the-road broadcaster in his 70s – Ken Bruce – made the surprising decision to leave the biggest radio show in Europe on BBC Radio 2 and up sticks to young upstart commercial station Greatest Hits Radio at the beginning of April.

The show is basically the same and he got to take his big feature – PopMaster – with him. Meanwhile, after a short break with interim presenter Gary Davies, Radio 2 appointed a spring-chicken – 49-year old Vernon Kay to the role, who seems to have settled in pretty well.

Well, the first figures are out and it looks like the power of Ken is pretty strong.

On Greatest Hits Radio the slot’s audience has doubled (since this time last year) giving the Brucester 3m listeners. It’s around an 800k increase on the quarter, but the previous quarter’s increase of 450k is probably down to him too.

Over at Radio 2, listeners for Ken’s slot have dropped, this quarter, by 1.3m. This seemingly has affected the station pretty significantly as its headline total reach figure has dropped by a million from 14.4m to 13.4m.

Whilst Radio 2 says this is “only a 7% drop”, I imagine they’ve been a bit surprised by the scale of it. I know I was, especially as I told the I Paper earlier this week: “I imagine that Radio 2’s headline weekly reach figure won’t really change much. There’s very few listeners that will have entirely abandoned Radio 2 to go to another station.”

My reasoning was that for your headline figure to drop, people have to entirely stop listening to your station and I guessed that I didn’t think many, even if they now listened to Ken on GHR, would abandon Radio 2. This was certainly the case with other high profile defections.

Perhaps after Steve Wright being moved and other musical changes, Ken is the straw that broke the camel’s back. However my hunch is that it isn’t likely to be terminal or even replicated over another quarter. Indeed the shocking headline of ‘loses a million’ is somewhat belied when you realise that Radio 2 retained 84% of the slot’s listeners, and the replacement – Vernon – was only on-air for half the quarter measured.

So if I was looking at this positively I’d say:

  • It’s only one quarter – it’s the trend you need to keep an eye on
  • The new show wasn’t measured the entire quarter
  • Radio 2 fluctuates up and down between -3% and +3% each quarter – and has had quarters that have been up 8% and down 5% fairly recently.
  • A big change will have promoted lots of trial over this quarter, that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned Radio 2 for good.

However, saying all of that, it’s still a sizeable loss that’s embarrassing for the station to have to deal with. It also may take some time to rebuild.

It has however hard to be too sad for Radio 2. They’re still, by far, the biggest radio station in the country and have the biggest breakfast show.

Meanwhile Ken’s arrival at Greatest Hits Radio has spiked their numbers nicely. His 3m weekly reach, has helped the station’s reach grow to 5.7m from 5.1m. But I don’t think that’s the end of that story.

As I’ve talked about before, stations measure audiences in different ways. If you’re a big national station you use quarterly data, this means your figures come only from data in the last three months. Smaller national stations and many larger local ones use half yearly data. This combines two quarters of data that rolls across each release. This is what Greatest Hits do. So actually their figures are half Ken, half not-Ken – so both the 3m and the 5.7m probably only tell half the story. Indeed, many of the smaller stations that make up Greatest Hits only have data based on 12 months, so it’ll be this time next year when we know the true story.

This is why there’s a bit of a difference between Radio 2 losing 1.3m listeners and GHR only gaining 800k of them. A decent number of the other 500k have probably already moved too, we just can’t see them yet.

Next quarter I’d expect to see Ken up even further and Greatest Hits maybe up towards 7million.

  • Yesterday I spoke to Ken’s boss, the Hits Radio Network Programme Director Gary Stein for a special edition of The Media Podcast, which should be available now!

More on the BBC…

Whilst Radio 2 dropping 7% will lead the headlines, other BBC stations didn’t do too well either. Radio 3 drops 11.8% this quarter (15.8% year on year) back to 1.7m (its Q3/22 figure). Staying on classical music, Global’s Classic FM has not fared well either (down 1.5% this quarter, and now 10% year-on-year).

5Live drops 1.2% this quarter (1.6% y-on-y), 6 Music drops 1.6% (6.4% y-on-y), 1Xtra down 3.7% (up 1.7% y-on-y) and World Service is down 0.7%, but 23.4% y-on-y).

A better look over at Radio 1 (up 1.6% q-on-q and 2.9% y-on-y) and the Asian Network (up 13.7% q-on-q and 6.9% y-on-y).

Over at Radio 4, their reach is down 4.5% quarter on quarter, and 12.9% on the year to 8.9m. The Today Programme is also on the slide – down to 5.5m, that’s a 4.6% drop quarter on quarter and a 16.1% drop year-on-year.

The Today Programme and Radio 4 generally are pretty much in sync. When one rises (or drops) the other one does too. Post-pandemic between 60% and 62% of Radio 4’s audience listen to Today. This quarter it’s 61.3% so pretty much unmoved.

Is Radio 4’s reach drop a concern for the network, or a return to its historic position? Fundamentally, I think there is far more quality audio on the radio and through podcasts now than there has ever been before. So it certainly faces far more competition. The chart below shows the changes in reach for each demographic and what percentage share each demographic makes up, over time.

I think what it shows is that the younger end – that’s 24s to 54s – which were pretty stable over time, are now able to get quality speech from elsewhere, meaning Radio 4 no longer needs to be part of that mix – and so we see a drop. This also coincides with the rise of digital radio and podcasts.

55 to 64s meanwhile have been stable and 65 pluses, are if anything growing – but I would imagine this might be matching population trends. It does mean, though, that 65 pluses who were just over a third of Radio 4’s audience are on track to become half of it over the coming years.

Of course Radio 4 is a big supplier of on-demand content, in fact nine out of ten of BBC Sounds’ top programmes are from R4 – and that won’t show up in these RAJAR figures.

Over on BBC Local Radio, which is in the process of making significant changes to the structure and programming, they’ve seen a reach increase of around 250k taking their total up to 5.5m.

In other news…

It’s interesting to see that the main Kiss station has now been overtaken in both reach and hours by its stablemate Kisstory. There were also good results for Capital Dance and Kiss Dance – both are now over the 1m reach mark.

Also well done to Hits Radio – the station (rather than network) has grown significantly over the year from 1.3m to 1.8m and the breakfast show with Fleur East, James Barr and Matt Haslam has grown from 413k to 550k.

And congratulations to Boom Radio, now whilst their reach increase wasn’t as impressive as previous months, they are the station with the most loyal listeners – tuning in for an average of 10.3 hours a week!

Also well done to my team at Fun Kids, with 96k listeners, 10+ in the London area and loads more that are younger than that, and also who listen across the country. But even in the bit we measure, it’s nice to be bigger than all of Virgin’s spin-off stations, all the country stations, Capital Chill, Heat and especially GB News.


  • I’ve been working with Lauren Layfield and the Podcast Discovery team on a brand new podcast called Your Next Podcast. Each week it talks about a brand new podcast series and features the whole first episode. Follow the podcast here. It’s a great way to always have something to listen to.