BBC Radio 4’s flagship current affairs programme Today grew its weekly audience by almost 600,000 people at the end of last year, during a busy news period that brought a rare December general election.
New RAJAR radio audience data shows the Today programme reached 7.17m listeners between 16 September and 15 December 2019, up from 6.6m in the previous quarter and 6.8m over the same period last year.
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The three-month period covered the election campaign and ballot, a number of significant votes on Brexit and the beginning of a ministerial boycott of the programme over accusations of political bias.
It also followed the departure of John Humphrys, often dubbed a “Rottweiler” because of his “attack dog” interviewing style, who left the programme on 19 September after 32 years and 5,000 shows.
But the figures are still behind a peak for the programme in April to June 2017 when it reached a record 7.82m listeners.
Listenership also grew at BBC Radio 4 overall, with a weekly reach of 10.98m, up from 10.34m in the previous quarter and 10.48m over the same period in 2018.
BBC 5 Live grew its audience to 5.41m listeners from 4.98m in the last quarter and 4.97m over the same period last year.
James Purnell, director of BBC radio and education, said the BBC’s speech radio stations showed “strong numbers” during the quarter.
He added that there had been 100m on-demand plays of BBC Sounds content, double the previous quarter, demonstrating “the increasing popularity of our radio programmes outside of our linear schedules”.
Global Radio’s LBC reached a record 2.7m weekly listeners over the three-month period, up 513,000 in the past year.
Three of its presenters celebrated their highest audiences so far. Nick Ferrari’s breakfast show reached more than 1.5m listeners each week, up 263,000 in a year, while James O’Brien added 256,000 listeners year-on-year to reach an audience of 1.3m.
Eddie Mair reached 911,000 listeners at the start of his second year since leaving BBC’s PM.
LBC’s commercial competitor Wireless, owned by News UK, said its flagship station, Talkradio, had grown its listeners by 43 per cent year-on-year to 433,000.
Wireless chief executive Scott Taunton said: “Talkradio has been a natural destination for listeners wanting a punchy perspective on the general election. A new Government with a mandate for change should give plenty of opportunity for Talkradio’s continued growth.
“Wireless now reaches more listeners, for more hours, than ever before. Meanwhile, our recently announced plans to launch Times Radio as a national digital station later this year underlines the commitment of News UK and Wireless to continue leading the way in the UK radio sector.”
Weekly listeners for September-December 2019 (RAJAR):
Radio 4 – 10.98m
Radio 5 Live – 5.41m
BBC World Service (UK) – 1.38m
BBC local radio –7.5m
(Radio 2 – 14.44m)
LBC – 2.7m