FEATURE: Go Figure! The Shifting Demographics of British Radio



Go Figure! 

IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Evans of BBC Radio 2

 The Shifting Demographics of British Radio


IT is interesting, a few weeks after it was revealed how much…


BBC’s talent was paid (annually), we get a report detailing the figures each of the radio stations has notched up. It is coincident – and, perhaps, not related – but I find it curious in regards the findings. I have written pieces stating how influential radio is when it comes to discovering new music. Streaming services are important but you cannot beat the variation and passion one gets from the radio. Whilst I am normally hooked to BBC Radio 6 Music; it is intriguing looking at the demographics of each station and whether the figures have gone up or down – and whether there is because of the music they play; the talent behind the microphone or changing tastes. Before investigating; let’s have a look at the findings  (presented on the BBC website):

Chris Evans's BBC Radio 2 breakfast show lost almost half a million listeners in the past year, figures show.

It comes just weeks after he was named as the BBC's highest paid star.

The DJ drew 9.01m listeners a week between April and June 2017, down from 9.47m over the same period in 2016, according to figures by audience research body Rajar.

He was paid between £2.2m and £2.25m during that same year.

The figures show Evans lost 370,000 listeners between the first and second quarter of this year - before his salary was published.

It's better news for Nick Grimshaw - whose breakfast show on Radio 1 saw its weekly audience rise by 350,000 listeners on the previous quarter to reach 5.5m.

It is also an increase on the 5.43m listeners who tuned in during the same period in 2016.

Radio 1 as a whole saw its audience jump by nearly half a million between April 3 and July 25 - with 9.6m listeners compared with 9.1m in the first three months of 2017.

The figures show Radio 4's Today programme has increased its weekly listeners to reach a record high - with 7.66m tuning in during the second quarter, compared to 7.13m three months earlier.

 Radio 4 itself also reached its biggest audience since records began in 1999 - with 11.55m listeners every week.

Bob Shennan, director of BBC radio and music, said Radio 4 was "as vital as ever as it approaches its 50th anniversary".

The BBC's figures overall were "fantastic news for radio, illustrating its enduring appeal in a crowded digital marketplace", he added.

LBC's audience also increased, with 2m listeners a week between April and June 2017, compared to 1.7m over the same period in 2016.

The stations parent company Global said it was an all-time high for the station, with presenters Nick Ferrari and James O'Brien both reaching record audiences.

Radio X, which was rebranded from XFM in 2015, also reached its best weekly audience yet with 1.4 million.


IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 2 D.J., Jo Whiley

Alan Brazil's breakfast show on talkSPORT lost about 400,000 listeners, with 1.6m a week in the 2016 period down to 1.2m in 2017.

The figures show the morning slot on Kiss saw its weekly audience drop slightly to 2m in the last quarter from 2.1m.

But the programme, hosted by Rickie, Melvin and Charlie, remains the most popular commercial breakfast show in the UK.

Classic FM's symphonies struck the right chords as its weekly audience increased by over 200,000.

And Heart 80s - a new station that launched in March and plays exclusively eighties music - attracted 850,000 listeners in its first Rajar quarter”.

These figures are published regularly and, maybe, one should not read too much into things. What I find interesting- the first thing, at least – is the loss of listeners from Chris Evans’ breakfast show. It is hard reading about that listener drop and ignoring the fact he is the BBC’s highest-paid talent. Not that this should split and bother his loyal listenership. Maybe there is a causal, fair-weather faction who have deemed that huge fortune as a good reason to go elsewhere. It is controversial discussing the pay findings – and why there is a notable gender-gap – but many would have been put off by the fact Evans earns a huge fortune. He has earned this – and been in the industry for years – but I feel one of the reasons his BBC Radio 2 morning show has lost listeners is because of changing tastes.

IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music's Shaun Keaveny

It is interesting BBC Radio 6 Music were not heavily mentioned in the article. Of course, Evans started shedding listeners long before the furore around his earnings. What the findings show is many more people are listening to the radio. Maybe BBC Radio 6 Music was omitted because it is digital-only but I know it has picked up a lot of listeners. The ‘traditional’ stations are seeing numbers increased and a wider demographic emerge. Streaming services and digital stations pack the market and it is very tempting to listen exclusively to them. What is apparent is people are still bonded to the good old-fashioned radio. It is not a stubbornness or age thing: that combination of great music and entertaining presenters is a potent blend. It is unsurprisingly Nick Grimshaw gained a lot of new recruits. Maybe there are a lot more younger listeners discovering radio: pleasing when one thinks about how digitised and Internet-based a lot of music listener is becoming. Why, then, is radio not only surviving but growing?! Before I give my theories on today’s findings: a look back to a 2011 piece published by The Daily Mail -

IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 1's Nick Grimshaw

But it found that radio had the most mood-enhancing effect, with listeners saying that it lifted their happiness levels 100 per cent and energy levels by 300 per cent, compared to those not using any media at all.

The report said: ‘Radio is chosen as a lifestyle support system, to help people feel better as they go about their daily lives. Rather than the peaks and troughs that people have claimed to experience with TV and the internet, radio provides a consistent environment themed and shaped to suit the listener’s needsat any given time of day, and one that is generally upbeat in tone.’

Viewers said TVs boosted their happiness by 62 per cent and energy by 180 per cent, while those using the internet said their happiness was increased by more than two thirds and energy levels leapt by 220 per cent,  when compared against people consuming no media”.


Many might think it is a case of people forsaking digital technology and bonding with something simpler and vintage. That is not the case – as shown in a 2015 piece by The Guardian:

Nearly 40% of radio listening is now on digital with record audiences for digital-only commercial stations including Absolute 80s and Planet Rock.

Absolute 80s pulled in an average of 1.45 million listeners a week with another 1.25 million tuning into Planet Rock, both owned by Bauer Media, in the first three months of this year, according to Rajar listening figures published on Thursday.

Kiss spin-off station Kisstory, another Bauer station, also hit a new high, up 21% to with 1.13 million listeners.


Digital listening was also given a boost by record audiences for the BBC’s Radio 4 Extra, which leapfrogged BBC 6 Music as the UK’s biggest digital-only station, with 2.17 million listeners.

Digital platforms made up 39.6% of all radio listening, up from 36.6% in the same period in 2014, including DAB radio, online and via apps.

In the London area, digital listening has now overtaken analogue, with a 46.8% share ahead of FM and AM’s 46.2%”.

Not only is the continued rise and success of radio encouraging: the fact a lot of young people are discovering the form is encouraging to say the least. I feel Chris Evans’ drop in listeners is less personality-driven and more to do with the type of music being played. I have listened to the breakfast slot on BBC Radio 2 and the playlist is not exactly invigorating and uplifting. If one wants to start their day right: you’d think you’d choose a show that had some spirited and fun music. Maybe that is a reach but I do wonder why there has been an exodus from his show to other options – Evans has been at the helm for years and has become no more irritating and unlikeable than before.

IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 4's The Today Show

We know BBC Radio 4 – and stations more suited to ‘older’ tastes – has seen its marketshare increase. One cannot say it is the young vote influencing this change. In Evans’ case; I feel it influenced by the time of day and a growing need to, at that time of day, discover a different type of show/music. Perhaps it is a brief blip but I was surprised to find so many leaving BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show. Are there more compelling reasons radio is seeing a resurgence? A piece by OptiComm Media, published last year, shed some light:

In this exciting age of digital it is easy to overlook the value of radio advertising or wrongly assume that it is less compelling than other channels.  Undeniably, the younger demographic do have a preference for listening to music using online video and streaming services via platforms like Spotify who are significantly increasing their foothold.  However, in the UK 9 out of 10 adults still tune into radio each week – that’s 48.7 million people.   Digital radio has also made radio more accessible to the masses – 58.9% of total radio listening is now via a digital platform with 30 million adults owning a DAB digital radio.

Digital radio also enables advertisers to target much more specifically based on listening preferences, region and age group to ensure the advertiser’s message is reaching its intended audience.  No doubt the day will come when listeners receive personalised ads based on a stored profile but for now, there are still plenty of persuasive reasons for looking at radio.

When was the last time you drove your car without the radio on?

IN THIS PHOTO: Russell Brand of Radio X

People do listen to radio ads and unlike TV where there is a tendency to channel hop, radio listeners do not change stations with the same frequency and are often more loyal to their station of choice.  Radio’s avoidance score is joint-lowest with cinema.  The RAB (Radio Advertising Bureau) estimate that 57% of listeners have checked out a product or service online after hearing about them on the radio while 39% revealed they have been compelled to search for something on the internet after radio prompted them to do so.

The effectiveness of local radio stations should not be overlooked.  These constitute an integral part of the community and businesses advertising on local radio can benefit from making that association and connection.  Listeners often develop an affinity for a particular presenter and think of them almost as a ‘friend.’  This feeling can extend to regular advertiser and sponsors if they get their messaging right.

Radio is a great selling tool because with the right script and voice you can convey emotion and authority and it can also be a very cost effective and speedy option.  With most stations offering excellent packages and deals that include scripting, production and licensing you really can reach more people for less than you may think and get on air in only a matter of day”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Jeremy Vine (BBC Radio 2)

It is not only the U.K. that is seeing its radio economy flourishing: American listeners are backing their stations and discovering new joys from the radio. I am interested in an article published by Forbes:

Instead, it’s all about smartphones and other connected devices for the younger crowds, which should come as no surprise to anybody who knows someone between the ages of 15 and 19. Smartphones are now responsible for 41% of their listening, which is much higher than the average when taking into account all age groups, which is just 18%. There is clearly a lot of room to grow when it comes to streaming platforms and the older generations, which seem to have barely been tapped.

Just because millennials have all but abandoned traditional radio, that doesn’t mean the format is “dead,” and in fact, radio is still doing alright, at least for the time being.

Millennials don’t listen to as much radio as those that came before them because they have much better options these days. Younger millennials are also in a unique position, as many of their parents are young enough to have caught on to streaming or other listening options instead of sticking with radio. The popularity of streaming is growing all the time, and now that so many devices have connected capabilities and wi-fi (including cars, where a lot of radio listening takes place), it’s easy to see why young millennials don’t have the connection to the radio that older generations still do”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Clara Amfo of BBC Radio 1

Is it, then, the case millennials are not only broadening their tastes – maybe some of BBC Radio 4’s new listeners are breaking trends and subverting expectations – and discovering radio through Smartphones and the Internet? It is impossible knowing exactly why certain stations are on the rise; why Chris Evans has lost a lot of listeners – it might be no down to simple factors or sudden realisations. The biggest takeaways from the new findings are radio’s lure and appeal continues to grow. We know how popular it was in 2011/’14/’15 – this looks set to continue for many more years to come. One cannot discount the influence of digital option, though. Maybe listeners are listening to F.M./A.M. stations through devices more? It does not matter how one listens to radio: the fact it is a format in no danger of extinction is wonderful. Unlike film – where there is a social aspect to going to the cinema – one could well imagine why people would forsake radio and choose streaming sites! The traditional and loyal core of radio listeners is not being tempted and distracted by the proliferation of streaming sites. People are still going to concerts but they have plenty of time for the radio. It is a forum one discovers new artists on; finds comfort in and unearths treasures.


For me, radio is not only access to the variety of upcoming talent: it is the chance to preserve the finest sounds from the past. I listen to shows like Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4, Sundays) and, as a result, have sought-out other shows on the station.  In terms of age groups, and whether certain stations are bringing in younger listeners, it is interesting reading a BBC breakdown. Similar breakdowns will be apparent this year but I am interested how important younger listeners are when it comes to contributing via digital means; how solid the traditional core is (older listeners) – and whether streaming services are actually driving people to radio. Streaming sites have their uses but they cannot cover the same sort of ground as radio. One does not get to listen to a human being via streaming – in the way they hear a D.J. on the radio. The breadth and choices one gets with the radio cannot be easily replicated. Whatever the reasons behind the continuing prosperity of radio are; I am still fascinated by the declining listenership of Chris Evans to other stations. I do not believe it is Evans’ personality and style that is driving people away. Half-a-million lost listeners is a huge dent and one wonders what the real reasons behind that are! Regardless of Chris Evans’ popularity; I am pleased radio remains in rude health – and continues to grow in popularity. It shows people are not only listening for music content but current affairs, comedy and a variety of shows. I, for one, hope radio’s dominance…

CONTINUES for decades to come.