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February 1, 2024

RAJARs: BBC local radio sees sharp listener decline in Q4 2023 amid cutbacks

Full breakdown of speech and news-based radio listening figures for Q4 2023 from RAJAR.

By Charlotte Tobitt

BBC Local Radio in England saw listening hours decline by 10% between the third and fourth quarters of 2023 amid a switch to more programme sharing, according to the latest RAJAR figures.

The BBC’s local radio services in England collectively had a weekly reach of 4.9 million in the Q4 period between 18 September and 17 December.

This was down 14% year-on-year and 8% quarter-on-quarter – both the biggest drops among the stations included in Press Gazette’s quarterly reach for their news and current affairs focus.

Over the past year dozens of long-serving local radio presenters have left their roles in England while programme sharing has begun in some time slots. The Guardian reported on a listener backlash in November days before hundreds of BBC journalists voted to end a long-running union dispute over the changes amid a deal that included the pausing of some local news sharing.

RAJARs Q4 2023: Mixed bag for news and current affairs stations

BBC Radio 5 Live also saw its weekly reach go down in Q4, declining by 6% both year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter to 5.2 million. However its total listening hours grew by 3.5% to 31.3 million.

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BBC Radio 4 was down 10% year-on-year but by a smaller 2% quarter-on-quarter, reaching 9.1 million people each week. Its listening hours were up 1.2% to 110.9 million.

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Its flagship Today programme at breakfast saw its weekly (Monday to Friday) reach down by 9% year-on-year to 5.6 million although it stayed relatively steady compared to Q3, growing by 1%.

BBC Radio 4 had the highest average hours per listener in our ranking, on 12.2.

The BBC said its own data showed increased digital listening as audience habits evolve, with a record average weekly audience of 4.86 million listening to its content on BBC Sounds between October and December and a peak of 4.96 million weekly users.

It added that there were 222 million downloads of its podcasts around the world in Q4, with The Global News Podcast the most popular on third-party platforms followed by Newscast. Newscast was also named as the most popular among under 35s on BBC Sounds alongside paranormal podcast Uncanny.

GB News Radio saw the biggest growth in our table, up 41% year-on-year and 8% quarter-on-quarter, although it remains the smallest with a weekly reach of 430,000. It is the youngest in our list, having launched in January 2022.

It also had the biggest-growing breakfast show, hosted by Eamonn Holmes and Isobel Webster, up 32% year-on-year and 19% quarter-on-quarter to 147,000.

However total listening hours at GB News Radio were down 8% – the second biggest dip in our list behind BBC Local Radio – to 2.8 million.

Talkradio and Talksport, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Broadcasting, saw strong growth in the latest data.

Talkradio was up 19% year-on-year and 5% quarter-on-quarter to 725,000 while Talksport was up by 13% and 11% respectively to 3.3 million.

Sister News Broadcasting station Times Radio was down, however, by 13% year-on-year and 1% quarter-on-quarter to a weekly reach of 492,000. Its total listening hours did grow by 2% to 4 million and its average hours per listener (eight) was higher than Talkradio or Talksport.

In addition the Times Radio breakfast show hosted by Stig Abell and Aasmah Mir saw its listenership grow by 17% year-on-year to 275,000, although this was down 8% compared to Q3.

News UK EVP, president of broadcasting, Scott Taunton, said the company is "driving more visualisation across all areas, bringing our brilliant brands and shows to new audiences on social and streaming platforms".

He added that Talkradio's growth is "building on our innovative approach to building the Talk brand across broadcast, streaming and social platforms" with the integration with TalkTV, while Talksport "remains the destination for live sport on the radio, as our investment in sports rights continues, most recently with the thrilling India v England Test Cricket series".

News UK also highlighted that the Youtube channel for TalkTV/Talkradio's Piers Morgan Uncensored now has 2.3 million subscribers while the Times Radio Youtube channel is on almost 700,000.

LBC, which turned 50 in October, reached 3 million people each week through its overall brand - LBC and LBC News in London and across the UK. This was down 3% year-on-year but steady compared to Q3, as was its listening hours of 28.1 million.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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