RAJAR Q4 2018: National brands and London radio update

Radio’s total reach has dropped more significantly in London over the past 12 months than across the rest of the UK.

Total UK radio audiences were down 0.9% in Q4/18 compared with Q4/17, but in the capital the drop was 3.9% – with some stations losing hundreds of thousands of listeners.

But we can’t lose sight of the fact that 88% of the population still listen to the radio at some point each week.

Despite Radio 1’s falling audience, Greg James added 231,000 listeners to his Radio 1 breakfast show in the final quarter of 2018. The number rises to more than 300,000 when adding in listeners aged between 10 and 15. For 15+ audience, Greg’s reach has gone from 4.88m in Q3/18 to 5.111m in Q4/18. But a year ago in Q4/17, Grimmy had 5.722m weekly listeners. Radio 1 says the number of under 25s listening is up 20% since the previous quarter, and that Matt and Mollie on Friday to Sunday breakfast reach 4m a week.

Radio 2 continues to be the biggest station in the UK, though audiences are down 3.9% year on year to 14.8m. The decline is replicated across all BBC network stations with the exception of the World Service. 5 live Sports Extra loses a million listeners quarter on quarter, while Asian Network drops by 134,000 year on year (16.5% of its audience). Radio 4 has lost more than three quarters of a million listeners across the UK in the last 12 months.

In the London market, Capital remains commercial number 1 on reach (although audience is down year on year by nearly a quarter of a million to 1.866m) and LBC is the top commercial station on share at 5.5% (though down from 6.6% in Q3/18).

The biggest national commercial radio brands are Heart (9.7m), Capital (8.2m) and Smooth (5.8m). And Bauer’s shiny new Hits Radio brand doesn’t appear to be a massive success yet in Manchester, with the former Key 103 station continuing to lose listeners.

Here are our detailed observations for Q4 2018:

Digital radio listening
Digital listening hit a new record share of 52.6% in Q4/18 – up from 49.9% a year earlier. Digital listening to national commercial stations has increased by 13.9 million hours (or 10.3%) year on year, and now accounts for 80% of all national commercial listening. In-car digital listening grew by 15 million hours (19% year on year), but still only accounts for 37.5% of all listening in cars.

6 Music is still the biggest digital-only station (2.3m reach), followed by Radio 4 Extra (2.1m). Kisstory remains the biggest commercial digital-only station – and its 1.8m could be increased further in 2019 following its move to the Digital One multiplex.

DAB accounts for 38.3% of all radio listening, and 72.7% of digital listening. The remainder of the digital listening is made up of online/apps (9.4%) and digital TV (9.4%).

National commercial radio brands
As mentioned above, Heart, Capital and Smooth are the biggest commercial radio brands on reach across the UK. They’re followed by Kiss, Classic then Magic.

Based on percentage year on year increases the star performer appears to be Hits Radio, which has seen reach go up 43% from 562k to 804k. In its press release, Bauer says the “Hits Radio Brand posts 6.2 million listeners” – though this includes all of the group’s ‘local radio division’, including the former big city stations that still have heritage names across the North of England and Scotland plus Free Radio, Wave 105, Gem and all of the Greatest Hits and ‘2’ services in Scotland.

With Bauer’s new acquisitions this week, it’s likely the number of stations branded as Hits Radio will increase – so after the first six months on air, how’s the Hits Radio brand doing in Manchester? The simple answer is: not as well as Key 103. Hits Radio Manchester now reaches just 271,000 people a week. This compares with 325,000 in Q3/18 and 385,000 in Q4/17, so the station has lost 114,000 listeners in a year – that’s 30% of its audience. Total hours are down from 2.186m a year ago to 1.658m in Q4/18; share down from 5.3% of the Manchester market to 4.1%. Bauer says the Hits Radio national Breakfast Show with Gethin Jones, Gemma Atkinson and Dave Vitty is up 70.1% year on year – to an audience size of 347,000 listeners across the UK.

Greatest Hits Radio – including the Scottish stations that are still branded as Clyde 2, Forth 2 etc – has a Q4/18 reach of 1.2million. Radio City 2 ended on a high at 218,000 weekly reach in Liverpool ahead of the rebrand to Greatest Hits last month.

Absolute Radio 90s and Absolute Classic Rock had positive ends to 2018, recording 30.1% and 13.8% year on year reach increases. The 969,000 listeners to the 90s service have just had to retune their radios this week as it moves from Digital One to the SDL multiplex, so it will be interesting to see whether that has an impact on audience data next time out. Absolute 70s lost 11.6% of its audience over the course of 2018, shedding 30,000 listeners to post a reach of 229k. The main Absolute Radio station also dropped audience over the year – going from 2.608m to 2.387m.

At 652k, Heat’s reach in Q4/18 was the best it’s been in two years. It’s now making way for Bauer’s new Scala Radio on DAB, so becomes online only.

LBC is celebrating its highest ever reach in its 46-year history, with 2.2m weekly listeners – adding almost 200,000 over the year.

Other year on year winners include Capital Xtra (up 14.9% to 1.792m), Gold (up 12.2% to 1.253m), Heart 80s (up 12.5% to 1.312m), Heart Extra (up 19.7% to 583k), Smooth Extra (up 16.4% to 908K) and the three Magic brand extension stations. Mellow Magic adds 27.5% more listeners year on year – taking it to a record 603,000; Magic Chilled is up 25% to 337k; and Magic Soul increases by 20.9% to post a 307k reach. Kiss Fresh posts good quarterly and yearly growth, reaching a record 620k. And while Kisstory is up by just under 100,000 listeners year on year, it falls back from the record 2.158m in Q3/18 to 1.805m in Q4/18.

Virgin Radio has increased its audience quarter on quarter, but it’s down 7.5% year on year (483k in Q4/17 to 44k in Q4/18). Wireless points out that following the announcement that Chris Evans would be joining Virgin in September, the station recorded its highest listening hours ever (1.7m per week). talkRADIO’s reach of 302k at the end of 2018 is up from 242k a year earlier (25% increase, or 60,000 extra listeners). talkSPORT’s audience remains exactly the same quarter on quarter, while talkSPORT 2 is up to 326k – its highest reach in more than a year.

Digital-only national stations reporting for the first time including Panjab Radio, which records a respectable 187,000 weekly listeners – and Jack Radio, which has 32,000 people tuned in each week across the UK. Sister station Union JACK – also on the SDL multiplex – has seen a massive rise in audience over the last 12 months, with a 74% rise from 88,000 to 153,000.

Other brands worth a mention.. Chris Country has a new record reach, with 49,000 listeners a week in London. This has more than doubled from 23,000 in Q4/17. And Nation Radio London drops back to its joint lowest ever reach – 4,000 listeners, compared with 15,000 a year earlier.

BBC networks
With the exception of the World Service, every single one of the BBC’s national networks saw its audience size drop year on year. When looking at quarterly figures, the only rises are for Radio 4 Extra, the World Service, 1Xtra and Radio 2.

Compared with a year ago, the BBC Asian Network is down 20% (527k reach compared with 661k in Q4/17).

5 live and 5 live Sports Extra combined drop by 10%, losing more than half a million listeners. The main station falls from 5.4m a year ago to 4.9m (its second-lowest ever reach), while the digital-only sports channel drops from 1m to 667k (the lowest it’s been since 2014, and more than a million listeners fewer than Q3/18).

Radio 1’s audience is down from 9.8m at the end of 2017 to 9.37m at the end of 2018 (rises to 10.19m when listeners aged 10-15 are included)

Radio 2 is down from 15.49m a year ago to 14.89m; Radio 3 down from 1.95m to 1.83m and Radio 4 down from 11.25m to 10.48m (a drop of 769,000).

1Xtra had a reach of 1.06m weekly listeners compared with 1.07m last year, 6 Music posts 2.29 million listeners (down from 2.34m last year) and Radio 4 Extra attracted 2.13 million listeners per week (from 2.01m last quarter and 2.26m last year).

The BBC World Service is the only success story among the networks in this RAJAR release, recording a weekly UK audience of 1.55 million (up from 1.47m last quarter and 1.51m last year).

The BBC’s combined Local Radio network also drops – from 8.2m in Q4/17 to 7.79m in Q4/18.



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London market
While radio’s overall reach across the UK is down by 0.9%, in London total reach is down by 3.9% over the last 12 months. This means we see some big drops in audience for stations including Kiss, Capital, Classic FM and BBC Radios 1 to 5 live.

Winners in London over the last 12 months include Smooth (up 67,000 year on year to 818k), Gold (up 5.7% to 296k), Capital Xtra (added 39k to 816k), Magic (up 42k to a record 1.606m) and Premier Christian Radio (60% increase in reach from 142k to 227k).

Not doing so well year on year are Absolute Radio London (down 192k to 726,000 reach in Q4/18), Kiss London (down 392,000 listeners – a fifth of the audience – to 1.631m) and Capital London (down 242,000 to 1.866m).

Capital remains the biggest commercial station in London on reach (1.866m), followed by Kiss (1.631m), Magic (1.606m), Heart (1.523m) and LBC 97.3 (1.147m).

On share, commercially, LBC is number 1 in London with 5.5%, – followed by Heart on 4.6% then Kiss and Capital tied on 3.7% share.

Despite losing almost 289,000 listeners in the capital over the last 12 months, Radio 4 remains the biggest and most listened to station in London with a 2.483m reach and 13.7% market share. Radio 2 is second on both counts with 2.259m and 12.3%.

Year on year drops on the London market include Radio 1 down 141k, Radio 2 down 201k, Radio 3 down 70k and 5 live down 153k.

Classic FM has also lost 151,000 listeners in London since Q4/17 – dropping from 1.4m to 1.249m.

Breakfast shows
Greg James’ arrival on Radio 1 breakfast has seen him add around 230,000 listeners in his first full quarter, with the show back over 5m listeners.

Chris Evans’ final quarter on Radio 2 breakfast saw an increase of 241,000 listeners, though the 9.065m reach was down almost 400k from the end of 2017.

5 live Breakfast has lost 316,000 listeners over the year (2.245m down to 1.929m), while Radio 4’s Today Programme drops from 7.146m to 6.798m – a loss of 348,000.

At the national commercial stations, Absolute Radio’s Dave Berry adds 65,000 listeners to give him a weekly reach of 2.165m and move above Kiss – which drops from 2.235m to 1.846m across the UK (a drop of 389k – or 17%). Fellow One Golden Square station Magic posts a great breakfast figure – up over a hundred thousand year on year to 1.532m for Ronan and Harriet.

At Leicester Square, Classic FM breakfast loses around 200,000 listeners year on year, dropping to 1.711m. And there’s a new record high for Chris Moyles on Radio X – who adds 81,000 throughout the course of 2018 to post a reach of 991,000.

In London there are increases in audience for many of Global’s brands – Jez Welham on Capital XTRA, Tony Dibbin on Gold, Jamie & Emma on Heart, Gary King on Smooth and Chris Moyles on Radio X. Capital, Kiss, LBC, Magic and Absolute all drop year on year in the London market.

Premier Christian Radio’s overall station reach increase is matched by a good performance from its breakfast show, which is up from 88,000 to 135,000.

Groups and quotes

Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK, said: “Q4 2018 marks the fourth quarter in a row when digital listening has been above 50%. The growth of digital listening and launch of new digital stations is providing a platform for growth for all broadcasters and we welcome the increasing levels of digital radio content innovation and investment. We look forward to the listening data for Q1 2019 which will reflect the massive surge in smart speaker sales and usage post-Christmas and the impact of the new stations and schedules launched in January.”

Global reports that it now has 25.3m weekly listeners and a 23.2% share of UK radio listening.

Ashley Tabor OBE, Founder & Executive President of Global, said: “We’ve had another superb set of scores right across the group. Global continues to grow its audience with 25.3 million people tuning in every week, one of our highest ever. We have the top three commercial radio brands nationally in Heart, Capital and Smooth and we’ve set a record high for both the Smooth and LBC networks across the UK. We’ve also won commercial reach, plus hours and share at breakfast in London, with Roman Kemp on Capital and Nick Ferrari on LBC respectively, and seen trending growth at Radio X across the UK, particularly for Chris Moyles at breakfast who scores a record high. These results are a testament to the dedication of all Globallers across our brands, and I want to thank all of them for their incredibly hard work. I know Richard Park has been looking at these numbers carefully and he’s very happy with them! He’s doing very well and we wish him a speedy recovery.”

Bauer reached 18m listeners a week now, and says the group continues as industry leader with record high listening via a digital device. Digital reach to Bauer services is 13.3m, a 10% year on year increase. 65.5% of the group’s audience is digital – compared with the commercial radio average of 52.6%.

Dee Ford, Group Managing Director Radio, Bauer Media, said: “It’s fantastic to see commercial radio being the driving force behind the UK’s love affair with radio. Bauer’s strategy of creating strong and distinctive networks is paying dividends. I’m particularly delighted that Magic has delivered its biggest ever audience, and to top that off, an extra quarter of a million listeners now tune in to Ronan Keating and Harriet Scott at Breakfast. Bauer has long been the industry leader in digital listening, and will continue to be on the front-foot by delighting audiences with new and distinctive services such as Scala Radio which launches on the 4th of March.”

Wireless says its investment in sports rights and talent is the driver behind improved audience figures.

Scott Taunton, Wireless CEO, said: “Wireless’ growth in listening hours and reach by 13% and 4% respectively is a significant achievement. These results reflect the talent and dedication of teams right across the business. The Chris Evans Breakfast Show is already the story of the year in the UK’s radio industry, and Wireless is set to continue to drive growth across its portfolio.”

Bob Shennan, Director of BBC Radio and Music, said: “It’s brilliant that our new and fresh Radio 1 Breakfast Show is doing so well, on air as well as digitally on BBC Sounds, social media and YouTube. Greg James is a superb DJ and we know his listeners love the show. We can see that a busy few months for listeners in the run up to Christmas has impacted on all radio listening in the UK, but despite that our radio breakfast shows demonstrate what an important role live radio still plays in people’s daily lives with millions waking up to BBC Radio, whether it’s for brilliant music, great guests or comprehensive news coverage.

“Nearly 9 in 10 people continue to listen to radio in the UK but as we know listening habits are changing. We’ve made great strides in reinventing our overall audio offer so that audiences now and in the future can discover the very best of the BBC, whenever they want to. This is paying off and increasing numbers of people are listening to music, radio and podcasts on BBC Sounds with recent record figures.”

Ben Cooper, Controller BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra & Asian Network, said: “It’s a fantastic start for both Breakfast Shows with Greg James putting on over 300,000 new listeners for a total of 5.59 million, and Matt & Mollie with the Weekend Breakfast Show reaching 4 million weekly listeners. RAJAR figures are only part of the story, and as well as over 10 million listeners, Radio 1 had record highs of 14 million weekly views on Radio 1’s YouTube channel.”

OXIS Media‘s national service Union JACK has seen audiences increase 74% year on year, while female artist station Jack Radio debuts with a national reach of 32,000 via the SDL multiplex. JACK CEO Ian Walker said: “With our two national radio stations, Union JACK and JACK Radio, achieving a combined total of close to 200,000 listeners who are listening for almost a million hours each week, we are really starting to make our mark on the national digital radio landscape and can offer advertisers an exciting opportunity to reach a large – and most importantly an engaged – audience of ABC1 men and women. Union JACK has been bringing more and more exciting programming initiatives to the fore – such as our forthcoming live broadcasts from the world-class Leicester Comedy Festival – that are clearly resonating with our listeners, while there is so much more to come from JACK Radio, which launched just three months ago. We’re delighted with these results and can’t wait to build on them further.”

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10 Comments
  1. Chris says

    Radio 3’s drop in part can be attributed to the fact some of it’s Welsh FM frequencies have been switched to Radio Wales.

  2. Alan Bernie says

    No mention of the BBC Radio Wales figures?

  3. Graham H says

    And the spokesman for BBC Local Radio clearly refused to comment other than say “it is embarrassing . How do you explain a near twenty per cent drop in listening hours across England.? I can’t.”

  4. LISA says

    “In London, Capital remains commercial number 1 on reach and LBC is the top commercial station on share”…heritage brands doing well here!

  5. maurice fells says

    No mention of BBC local radio stations in the West Country?

  6. Radio Producer says

    “Bauer’s strategy of creating strong and distinctive networks is paying dividends”

    Think its about time someone wrote a new script…. Seems Bauer wheel this comment out every quarter… Wearing a litlle thin!

    1. Joe Smith says

      How about they replace it with “Bauer’s strategy of creating meaningless PR drivel is not paying dividends”?

  7. Diana says

    Whatever happened to Planet Rock ratings?

  8. Marcus Ross says

    I think you’ll find a massive further drop in 6 music listeners in the next quarter following the unpopular recent changes. Shame as they had it just about right.
    Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

  9. David Bendelow says

    LBC rise due to Eddie Mair bringing his fans from R4

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