Commercial radio is gradually closing the gap to challenge the BBC’s 85-year dominance of speech radio, according to newly released listening figures from industry measurement body Rajar.
Speech radio has traditionally been the preserve of the public service broadcaster, ever since the corporation was founded in 1922. But the latest set of Rajar data – covering the period from April to June this year – shows the commercial sector clawing back listeners from the BBC, with a number of success stories from talk and news stations.
The BBC’s audience share has fallen from a record 56 per cent in the first three months of this year to 54.3 per cent in the second quarter.
In the same period, the commercial sector – which trailed a long way behind the BBC in the last set of results, with a 42.1 per cent audience share – has started to close the gap and now commands a 43.5 per cent slice of the radio market.
BBC Radio 4 lost 155,000 listeners between the first and second quarters of this year. Its weekly audience reach is down 1.6 per cent from 9.64 million to 9.48 million and the Today programme’s audience fell by 216,000 quarter on quarter, from 6.4 million to 6.18million. The station is, however, still up year on year, and has held on to the title of London’s most listenedto radio station.
Meanwhile, the rolling news and sport station FiveLive has failed to retain listeners after the football World Cup in Germany this time last year. The station has shed 143,000 listeners in the past 12 months – a dip of 2.4 per cent from 6.03m to 5.89m.
Its closest commercial rival, Talk- Sport, has put on listeners in the same period, with a weekly audience up 6.9 per cent year on year to 2.37 million.
The station has put its success down to its commitment to providing more live commentary from matches, and the recent high-profile signing of former Arsenal striker Ian Wright to front its drivetime show.
TalkSport chief executive Scott Taunton said: “These figures prove that our policy of investment in sports rights and talent such as Ian Wright is paying off in attracting new listeners to the station.”
One of the biggest successes in the commercial sector came from London talk station LBC, which is up 33.8 per cent year on year. The station has increased its weekly reach from 476,000 to 637,000 in the past 12 months, and its breakfast show, fronted by Nick Ferrari, has also put on listeners.
LBC’s sister station, the rolling news station LBC News 1152, saw its yearon- year audience spike from 185,000 to 275,000 – an increase of 48.6 per cent. The station rebrands as Sky News Radio early next year as part of a joint venture between its owner, Global Radio, and BSkyB.
North of the border, the Guardian Media Group has posted yet another audience high for Real Radio, the biggest commercial radio station in Scotland. The station, which has a 24- hour newsroom and runs a nightly topical discussion programme, has achieved a record weekly audience of 771,000.
GMG Radio chief executive John Myers said: “We’ve seen an increase at each of our 11 stations, and there won’t be many groups who can say that. It’s a fantastic performance by any standards.”
Andrew Harrison, the chief executive of commercial radio trade body the Radiocentre, said the strong performances in the sector, including significant gains for speech radio, was an encouraging sign.
“It is fantastic to see increases across the board for commercial radio,” he said. “The national picture has never been in better health while locally the fightback is well underway.”
A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation’s lacklustre performance in this latest set of Rajar figures was partly down to the second quarter of the year being “traditionally quiet”.