The chances are you were probably listening to more radio than ever before… because that’s what the latest set of results from RAJAR are showing Radio Experts, our audio specialists.

More people are listening to radio in the UK than ever before, with combined weekly audience for all radio in the UK now at an astonishing high of 49.9 million, representing 88.6% of the adult population – that breaks the previous record of 49.7 million set in Q1 2022.

Commercial Radio has also set a new record with its highest ever audience reach of 39.7 million, which is up from its previous record of 39.3 million in the third quarter of 2023. Its share of listening has also grown year-on-year and is now at 54.2% compared to 51.4% in the same period last year. The BBC’s share now stands at 43.4%. That means Commercial Radio now has 8.3 million listeners more than the BBC.

The popularity of online listening also continues to grow and has now overtaken listening on analogue FM and AM platforms for the first time on all radio, with the highest ever online listening share of 27.8% compared to analogue at 27%.

So, what’s the detail behind this impressive growth? The Radio Experts team has been burning the midnight oil to bring you the highlights.

National Stations and Networks

Global remains the UK’s number one commercial radio group with a record 27.6 million weekly listeners, record hours (266 million), and record share (26.1%).

Leading the way for Global is the Heart Brand which continues to improve on last quarter’s successes, adding 8% to its overall reach to 12.4 million listeners each week and the best part of 4.4 million hours to its growing total, resulting in 80.8 million listening hours.

The Capital Brand is stronger than ever, now reaching over 8.3 million listeners each week, including Capital Xtra. The main network has increased its total reach this quarter by 6% from 5,871,000 to 6,243,000 and total hours by 7.1% (from 27,462,000 to 29,411,000).

It’s “as good as Gold” for the Gold brand too, with 3 of its 4 regional transmitters increasing reach. This has helped the Gold Network increase its total weekly reach by 8% to 1.8 million with an additional 134,000 listeners tuning in.

Meanwhile, it’s still smooth sailing for the Smooth Brand – up from last quarter’s 6.2 million listeners to 6.5 million.

The UK’s second largest commercial radio group, Bauer, is also reaching its biggest ever audience, with a record 24 million weekly listeners tuning into its portfolio of owned and partner stations – up 6.9% year on year.

Bauer’s “Greatest Hits Radio” (GHR) has been one of the great media success stories of the past few years and has attracted talent from the BBC, including Simon Mayo and Ken Bruce. This quarter, owing to both organic growth and the addition of new stations into the network, Greatest Hits Radio has grown to a new record reach of 7.8 million listeners each week, up 13.8% compared to Q4 2023. GHR has also added 12% more hours in the last quarter. The Ken Bruce effect is still yielding results – the Pop Master now has 3.8 million weekly listeners – a poptastic 73% increase year on year.

Bauer’s other main brand, Hits Radio Network, has also had an excellent quarter with growth of 6% quarter on quarter, now reaching 6.7 million listeners each week.

Over at Magic Network, they’re still pulling more rabbits out of the hat. Its reach has grown this quarter by 6.3%, rising from 4,157,000 to 4,417,000 weekly listeners.

Meanwhile, the Absolute Radio Network has absolutely impressed the public – adding nearly 200,000 listeners to their weekly reach. Absolute is now reaching nearly 5.5 million listeners each week, up 4% compared to Q4 2023.

News UK has also seen good results this quarter, with Virgin Radio, talkRadio, talkSport and Times Radio all increasing in weekly reach.

Looking at the news and talk stations

The news is in… and it’s been a positive RAJAR overall for the LBC Brand. It’s seen a 9% growth in weekly reach from 2,990,000 to 3,260,000 compared to Q4 2023.

The main headline during this survey was LBC News (UK) which has seen large increases quarter on quarter in both reach and total hours listened. Total hours rose by 11.8% (from 2,484,000 to 2,776,000) and reach also saw a huge increase by 22.2% to 990,000 (up from 810,000).

It’s also been a strong RAJAR for News UK’s stations. Sport lovers have helped talkSPORT’s reach increase by 10% to 3.4 million weekly listeners. Over at talkSPORT2 reach is also up – by 1% to 0.56 million weekly listeners and hours were up by 84%, quarter on quarter.

GB News has something to report on too – reach is up 6% to 0.46 million and hours up 15% with average hours now at 7.1.

Digital Listening and Digital Only Stations

Digital listening is becoming more and more important for radio and is on the increase. Digital share of all radio listening is now at 73% whilst 77% of the population tune into digital radio each week.

One of the newest digital stations performing well is Capital Dance – up by an impressive 19% in total hours (from 3,974,000 to 4,737,000) as well as up 15% in reach from 863,000 to 995,000, compared to Q4 2023. Although, it’s clear some listeners still prefer to take off their dancing shoes and chill out with Capital Chill – up 9% in total hours from 897,000 to 979,000.

The good ‘ole guys and gals at Smooth Country have climbed into their Chevy trucks and pressed the pedal to the metal – increasing its reach by 14% to 358,000 (from 314,000). Hours are also up 22% (which must be partly due to Twiggsy playing it constantly in the office!)

Magic at the Musicals is still on song with yet another great quarter. Its weekly reach has grown by an impressive 21.2%, increasing by 35,000 (from 165,000 to 200,000.)

Meanwhile, Heart 00’s is the winner of the ‘tens’ stations with a 20% (169,000) increase in reach, and a 32% uplift in hours (to 875,000).

London

There’s no real change this quarter in the battle of the brands in London.

Heart remains number 1 in the city for reach and LBC remains in first place for share.

However, Radio X is marking the spot in London and has grown by 5.2% in reach to 467,000, and its total hours have increased by 7.6%, with listeners tuning in for an average of 7.9 hours per week.

The top 5 London stations are as follows:

Weekly Reach (000’s)

Heart London1,906
Capital London1,486
Magic London1,421
LBC London1,287
Greatest Hits Radio London1,125

Total Listening Hours (000’s)

LBC London13,685
Heart London10,082
Magic (London)7,833
Capital London6,834
Greatest Hits Radio (London)6,082

Locally

In the regions, there’s been some incredible increases in listening across the board.

In the North West, Capital Manchester is up an impressive 40% in total hours – up from 1,224,000 to 1,715,000.

Meanwhile, there’s a welcome in the hillside for Capital South Wales – up a staggering 37.9% in total hours from 734,000 to 1,012,000 with the reach also up 19% from 160,000 to 191,000.

Of the 60 stations within the GHR network, the vast majority showed quarter on quarter growth across the UK. GHR Cornwall is up 48% to 68,000 in reach compared to Q4 2023. GHR Kent is up 27% to 108,000 listeners, GHR East Midlands up 49% in weekly reach to 245,000, Greater Manchester is up 38% to 274,000, and GHR Lancashire is also up by 63% to 156,000 listeners each week.

Bauer’s Hits Radio has also had an excellent quarter, across the country with Hits Radio Manchester up 11% in reach to 289,000, Hits Radio Oxfordshire added 54% more listeners to 40,000, Hits Radio Staffordshire & Cheshire is up 23% to a weekly reach of 229,000, and Hits Radio Bristol & South West is up a whopping 68% to 54,000 listeners. With local heritage stations such as Radio City, Metro, Hallam, Viking and Gem being rolled into the network, it’ll be interesting to see how the Hits Radio Network performs over the coming quarters, but the initial signs from those that have already been re-branded are encouraging.

Summary

So, what’s the takeout from Q1 2024?

Radio is on a roll. This record-breaking set of figures demonstrates Commercial Radio’s strength and its commitment to delivering for audiences and advertisers.

For the industry to reach audiences of almost 40 million people each week is a testament to how people in the UK really value and trust the medium.

In short, there’s never been a better time for advertisers to use radio.

Ian Southey

Ian Southey

Co-founder and Director of Skin Communications