Commercial radio hits new high of 36.3m weekly listeners amid digital surge

Advertiser-funded stations now pull in average of 2.7 million more listeners per week than those of BBC.

Capital: Roman Kemp presents breakfast show
Capital: Roman Kemp presents breakfast show

Commercial radio has posted its highest-ever audience in terms of reach, thanks to a surge in demand for online radio streaming through websites and apps as the Covid-19 lockdown began.

The advertiser-funded segment of UK radio scored 36.3 million average weekly listeners for the first three months of 2020, according to the latest Rajar figures, released today (Thursday). Commercial radio also opened up its biggest-ever audience lead over the BBC, with 2.7 million more weekly listeners on average. 

Commercial radio’s share of listening is now at 47.8%, up from 45.7% in the same period in 2019. Average hours are also up slightly to 13 hours per week and total hours are up almost 1% year on year.

Of the national stations, LBC continued to show rapid growh, reflecting a similar trend at the end of 2019. The Global station grew 24% to 2.78 million listeners per week on average.

Heart and Capital, the most popular stations, fell by close to 9% and 11% respectively.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s reach fell to 33.5 million, down 2.6% from the first quarter of 2019, while its share of hours declined below the halfway mark to 49.7%. 

The weekly audience reach for radio as a whole is down 0.6 percentage point to 88.8%, but average listening time is up to almost three hours per day on average (20.2 hours per week). 

Digital – including DAB, online and apps – now makes up 61.6% of listening, reflecting the increased popularity of brand extensions and new services being offered. Listening online and via apps is up by more than a quarter to 15.7% of listening, with a similar trend shown across all radio as audiences tune in using a variety of methods, including smart speakers.

Siobhan Kenny, chief executive of Radiocentre, said: "Covering the beginning of the year, mostly pre-lockdown, these latest Rajar results for January to March show commercial radio hitting record numbers. Audiences’ high level of trust and increased availability during lockdown can only build on that."

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