Speech radio stations saw a large audience boost in the first quarter of 2022 with a number of stations seeing record reaches, according to the latest RAJAR radio listening figures.
Times Radio, which is owned by News UK’s radio division Wireless, saw the biggest quarter-on-quarter boost of the major talk stations, reaching a weekly audience of 703,000 people in the first three months of the year, a 40% gain on the last quarter of 2021.
The numbers, the station’s third RAJAR results, are its best yet. The national digital station launched in June 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and recorded 637,000 average weekly listeners in its first set of results in the third quarter of 2021.
Wireless’ Talkradio, which now airs programming from News UK’s new TalkTV channel in the evenings although this had not launched in time for the latest RAJAR results, also saw double-digit audience growth of 20%. The station reached 650,000 people, also its highest ever.
According to News UK, the station has now seen nine consecutive quarters of growth and broke a number of its own weekday listening records including for Julia Hartley-Brewer’s breakfast show and Jeremy Kyle's evening drivetime programme.
Scott Taunton, News UK’s head of broadcasting, said: "I am delighted with this record performance; it reflects well on the brilliant radio being produced across every area of the News Broadcasting portfolio. We are building new audiences across an array of platforms, and showing steady growth.
"As the national and international news agenda continues to be a focus for more and more people, listeners are turning to brands they trust for analysis. Talkradio continues to be the home of popular opinion, delivering another round of record numbers. New evening programming has been introduced to Talkradio since the launch of TalkTV in April, introducing audiences to brilliant new shows like Piers Morgan Uncensored, The News Desk with Tom Newton Dunn and The Talk."
News UK has seen ratings for TalkTV's linear TV channel, which has promised to be less ideologically driven than its rival GB News, slump since launching on 25 April. Piers Morgan, who was reportedly given a £50m three-year deal to join Murdoch’s group, attracted a peak audience of 400,000 viewers for his debut Uncensored show. His ratings have, however, since fallen reaching a low of 40,300 earlier this week according to Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) reported by the i.
GB News which recently started simulcasting its audio feed as a radio station reached 239,000 people a week, eclipsing, said GB News, talkRADIO’s launch.
GB News Chief Executive Officer Angelos Frangopoulos said: "NAfter just one quarter on air, we are already at 37% of our closest competitor's weekly reach, so this is an excellent debut, especially as we haven’t promoted the station yet."
LBC, the UK’s largest commercial talk brand, meanwhile also grew its audience for the ninth RAJAR in a row. The Global-owned brand reached 3.5m people overall. LBC's main station reached 2.7m people (up 5% quarter-on-quarter) while its dedicated rolling news channel LBC News grew its audience by 20% to reach 1.1m people.
James Rea, director of broadcasting and content at Global, said: "It’s fantastic to see that radio remains such an essential part of people’s lives and listening continues to grow with Global’s best ever number and the highest ever reach for British commercial radio. As it approaches its fiftieth year I’m thrilled to see LBC celebrate its highest listening figures and our new rolling news channel, LBC News, reach the 1 million listener milestone, so quickly."
The station has in the past been criticised for "shock jockey" tactics. Earlier this year presenter Maajid Nawaz was asked to leave the broadcaster after tweets he posted linking Covid-19 vaccinations and conspiracy theories. In 2017, the station let go of controversial commentator Katie Hopkins.
The boost in listenership to talk radio stations comes in the context of a largely unchanged overall radio audience size compared to Q3 (49.7m people). A busy news agenda including the Ukraine war and the cost of living crisis have helped drive above average audiences to newsbrands, many of which also saw online audiences grow in the first months of this year.
Of the speech station breakfast shows, BBC Radio 4 continues to pull in the largest audience. Its flagship Today show, airing Monday to Saturday, attracted an average of 6.5m listeners each week - unchanged from the previous quarter.
LBC’s Nick Ferrari and James O’Brien meanwhile drew in the biggest listenership of the commercial players, with 1.4m weekly listeners each. Ferrari’s audience figures were back up after slumping slightly at the end of last year.
Times Radio’s Aasmah Mir and Stig Abell beat their own last quarter performance attracting an average of 266,000 listeners, compared to 255,000 in the three months to December. News UK announced on Wednesday it is adding two new presenters to its breakfast lineup to cover the weekends, including Chloe Tilley who will be joining from the BBC.
Wireless was among the broadcasters that said that the recent RAJAR results also reflected growing audience engagement. Total listening hours for Talkradio were up 23% compared to the last quarter to reach 5.7m hours each week, while Times Radio’s listening hours were up 16% to 3.6m hours weekly. The LBC brand stations also all saw increases in total time spent listening to their programming.
GB News Radio meanwhile recorded 1.5m listening hours. Its audience tuned in for an average of 6.3 hours a week each, ahead of Times Radio (5.2hrs) but behind talkRADIO (8.8hrs) and LBC (9hrs).
Although the BBC continues to dominate the radio market including speech radio, the corporation fared less well than its commercial rivals when it came to audience growth. Radio 4 reached 10.6m people (a quarter-on-quarter gain of just 1%), while Radio 5 Live reached 5.6m people (down 6% quarter-on-quarter). The BBC’s Local Radio network, which includes news, music and entertainment programming, reached 8.6m people (down 4%).
The exception was the BBC World Service which saw a large audience gain of 1.5m weekly listeners - a quarter-on-quarter rise of 22%.
The latest RAJAR results present listening data for the quarter to 3 April 2022. It is the third data release since the radio listening survey was reinstated after being suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Due to the suspension, year-on-year comparisons are not available.
From Q3 2021, RAJAR adopted a new approach that relies on a broader group of data sources and includes panellist and MediaCell technology for the first time, alongside face-to-face interviewing.
Despite concerns over the decline of radio, RAJAR data shows that listenership has remained remarkably resilient with 89% of people over 15 tuning into radio each week. Over one fifth (22%) of hours are listened to through online mediums such as websites, apps or smart speakers.
Previous RAJAR stories:
- Q42021: Times Radio audience falls by a fifth as Talkradio and LBC growth continues
- Q3 2021: Times Radio reaches 637,000 weekly listeners as Radio 4 Today dips to 6.5m
- Q1 2020: LBC News reaching 675,000 weekly listeners in first six months since launch
- Q4 2019 BBC Radio 4's Today grows audience by 600,000 during election period
- Q1 2019: Radio audiences grow as 32m tune in to news and current affairs
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