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What is the radio audience up to? (6 minute read)
The second RAJAR since the COVID hiatus has appeared and after the excitement of last quarter’s new stations and changes in behaviour, this wave is a little more muted.
As I talked about last time, youth radio is finding it difficult to control declines, many of which seem structural rather than cyclical. Radio 1 has had its worst ever quarter for both 10+ and 15+. The station is very much in build mode, with much of this quarter bearing the brunt of new mid-morning, drive and evening shows. Faced with all of that, a small dip from 8.2m to 8.1m is probably not that bad.
Over at Capital, Breakfast with Roman Kemp is having share problems. Generally breakfast audience share exceeds the station’s average. If you put loads of effort into a breakfast show you would assume it will outperform the more functional aspects of a station. Over at Radio 1, Greg James gets a 6.1% share compared to the station average of 5.4%, Kiss’ new-ish breakfast show has a 1% share nationally, the same average as the station, and in London breakfast is on 2.6% vs the station’s 2.4%.
For Roman and the team, their show is 2.9% in London (vs 3.2% for the station) and nationally is 2.6% (vs 2.9% for the station). Capital has suffered for a long time with low average hours - which will impact share. It’s also kept its breakfast show at the regular 6 to 10am time, whilst Radio 1’s moved Greg from 7 to 10.30am, and Kiss Breakfast with Jordan and Perri is 7 to 11am, perhaps not maximising the available audience.
Indeed, down the corridor at Radio X, Chris Moyles is delivering a 3.2% share in London and a 2.9% share nationwide - better than Capital. Radio X has a third of the reach of Capital, but Moyles is delivering more listening hours. I thought I’d also check out the average ages, for Roman’s show its 36.7 and Moyles is 38.3 - not actually that different.
Commercial radio ads are sold based on the amount of impacts - this is directly related to the volume of listening hours a station generates - more impacts, more revenue. Now, clearly, demographics do come into play and certain audiences are worth more than others - but youth radio stations’ low average hours, often with declining reaches, means total hours are likely to decline even faster.
In the last ten years, Capital’s lost a third of its hours nationwide and half of its hours in London. In the last five years Kiss has halved its hours. Plus Capital Xtra’s sitting on its worst hours for a long time. Clearly, some of this comes from increased competition, but declining total youth hours doesn’t help either.
I think there is a danger that the declining audiences means its much harder for groups to make money from youth radio. If that results in cutting investment, then you potentially get stuck in a loop of declining revenue and audience that you can’t get out of. Any lack of provision for young audiences puts at risk bringing new listeners into the medium. And that’s bad news for radio stations targeting older listeners later on.
Greatest Hits Radio
In London, Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio took over Absolute’s 105.8FM frequency in May last year. Both stations have been on digital platforms throughout, though the FM change happened in the middle of the chart below, just before Q3, 2021.
Absolute has not unexpectedly seen a decline, but this has been more than made up by GHR’s appearance. GHR has also been attracting a different audience to Absolute. So whilst Absolute has declined its audience have found it on other platforms, whilst a new audience has come to GHR, discovering it through FM. The bottom line shows a combo of audiences, demonstrating the increase in reach and hours for Bauer overall.
The Simon Mayo affect has probably propelled GHR in London and also in Liverpool (where it had been on FM for a while). This has helped it grow its audience across the UK to 3.08m (from 2.89m). These increases though do hide a more mixed bag from many of the stations that were acquired and re-branded. Some that had strong heritage have had precipitous drops. The Eagle in Surrey has fallen from 107k two years ago to just 40k now.
Local and Networks
Rebranding into networks however, for many stations, is probably the best chance of those frequencies remaining viable.
I counted 57 commercial FM stations that are still locally branded - the Pirate FM’s and Radio Pembrokeshire’s of the world. Reach-wise 49 of them were down quarter on quarter. Over at the BBC it’s a similar story, with just 13 of their stations increasing reach. The hours story for both is not dissimilar.
To pick one example, Free Radio Birmingham, or BRMB in old money, currently has a reach of just 115k. To compare, it was over 500k in 2004 and even over 300k in 2016.
The choice provided by digital radio makes it increasingly tough for heritage stations with a broad pop music radio format to succeed.
This isn’t helped by only 36% of radio’s listening hours now being from AM/FM. DAB on its own is 43.2%. All the digital hours combined are 64%. Analogue reach is only 64.7% now, compared to digital’s reach of 80.3%. UK radio listening now is very much a digital endeavour. The sheer volume of national competition means it’s harder and harder each quarter for local stations to compete.
A lot of this post has been around declines, but there’s some good news too. Planet Rock, one of the first national digital radio stations, has had its best reach ever at 1.4m (it’s also the biggest digital-only commercial station for hours - 10.6m of them). It just shows that audience growth can happen for any station.
New kids on the block, Boom Radio had a small reach bump (from 233k to 242k) but delivered strong hours growth, driven by high average hours. They’re now doing 2.4m hours (up from 1.8m hours last quarter). It’s an hours performance that makes them bigger than the BBC Asian Network, Heart 90s, Jazz FM and many more. If they keep their average hours up and grow their reach then they’ll end up doing very well.
Over at Fun Kids we’ve had our best ever RAJAR. We measure in London and look at the 10 plus data, even though that’s outside our target demo (but sadly RAJAR doesn’t go any lower). We’ve got 122k 10+ listeners in London, which is more than talkRADIO, Hits Radio, Heart 90s, Capital Dance and 30 other stations. Not that I’m counting.
Adam Bowie does excellent RAJAR round-ups and you can find his here.
He’ll also be joining me on the Media Podcast this week to talk RAJAR. It’ll be out tomorrow, so subscribe in your podcast app of choice!
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