Where Next for ILR?

When LBC launched in 1973, it was the first Independent Local Radio (ILR) station in the UK. Capital Radio was the second station, launching just a eight days after LBC. In due course, there would be more than 200 such stations across the country.

Today, we must wonder whether we are beginning to see the endgame in that phase of UK radio. As has been widely expected since Ofcom relaxed its Localness Guidelines in October last year, Global Radio has announced the cessation of all its local and regional breakfast shows across Capital, Heart and Smooth. In essence, these will become fully networked services, with just a single show on weekdays not coming from London.

It will also merge a number of services as allowed for by Ofcom, resulting in the closure of a number of offices. (I would anticipate that the current transmission splits will remain, since that will continue to allow them to have highly localised advertising – a Brighton car dealer won’t want to advertise in Portsmouth and vice versa.)

There’s a lot to take in here, and first and foremost, you must think of the staff who will be losing their jobs in the coming weeks and months. There are going to be a lot of people losing their livelihoods.

Consolidation has invariably led to a diminished workforce in radio. While perhaps some of those people will be able to find other audio jobs – there is a burgeoning podcast world for example – there will certainly be people who end up leaving radio and the industry altogether.

Only a very small handful of people ever get rich from radio. Most people who entered the industry did so because they were passionate about it. And it’s many of these people that we’ll be losing.

And with those people will go much of the development structure for bringing new talent into the industry. Down the road, that might hit the industry.

I’m not simply thinking of on-air talent either – there are a lot of production staff, engineers and sales people who are likely to be affected by this too. My Twitter feed has been a stream of commiserations and sadness today – from right across the industry. Even if you aren’t directly affected, there’s an understanding that it could have been you.

It’d be glib to say that the writing had been on the wall for a while. I think most have known that. But it doesn’t make it any more comfortable. That said, the structure of our wider society, and its media consumption is constantly evolving, and there are no certainties about how things will look tomorrow.

Truly, the times they are a-changin’.

What Next?

Changing a breakfast show is never something a station does lightly, and changing so many at the same time will probably cause some listener backlash. How strong that resistance will be may vary within different stations’ areas.

Global has a level of experience of this, having re-branded many heritage stations over the years. It’s a big job to do all in one go, but there’ll be marketing support behind it.

Capital v Radio 1; Heart and Smooth v Radio 2

As reported by Radio Today, Global wants to take on Radio 1 and Radio 2 directly. If you consider the reported figures for the various Networks (excluding sister stations like Capital Xtra), you can see that in reach terms, Capital is within the same ballpark as Radio 1, while Heart and Smooth cumulatively are close to Radio 2.

However, Radio 2 has an enormous hours advantage over its commercial competitors. My suspicion would be that losing Chris Evans and Simon Mayo isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to those hours when we get the next RAJARs.

What I would now anticipate is that Global will go out and heavily market Capital once it has made changes to the breakfast shows on 8 April – just over a month away. Global has never really stinted on marketing spend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a major TV campaign to support bus sides and, of course, a substantial outdoor campaign (cumulatively, they have a 35% market share of the UK outdoor advertising industry). Similarly, expect campaigns for Heart and Smooth later in the year.

While I wouldn’t expect Global to do anything like Wireless Group is doing with Virgin, in going ad-free, I would expect them to sign a big name headline sponsor for the new national Capital breakfast show. And we might also see the return of some stunts. Plenty have noticed that only Radio 1 has really done properly interesting and elaborate stunts on air recently. Only last week they ran an engaging Escape Room game with Greg James.

Perhaps we’ll see the return of really big breakfast promotions – big cash prizes, and truly imaginative output. Time will tell.

In a world that is become increasingly self-curated, FOMO is a powerful beast. If you were listening to the Spotify playlist on your way to work, but didn’t hear the amazing thing that was happening on the radio that everyone else is talking about, then you missed out!

Radio 1 v Capital will be interesting to observe.

I think Heart and Smooth v Radio 2 is more complex and nuanced. While Radio 2 has subtly shifted its music younger recently, the success of the station is in no small part due to what they’re doing when they’re not playing music. The talk, the interaction, the guests and so on. I’m not truly convinced that Heart and Smooth are in a position to take that on.

And of course the BBC always has the advantage of not having to get away 10-12 minutes of advertising an hour.

Giving Up Market a Market Leading Advantage

But make no mistake, there’s a big risk here as well. Global is shrinking 42 breakfast shows down to 3, and the number of drivetime shows is falling from 23 to just 10. Some of those shows will be market leaders – or at least commercial market leaders.

If you replace a local show, with someone who knows the area and is popular amongst local listeners, with a show that comes from London, is that local audience certain to stay around? That’s particularly the question you have to ask if there’s a local rival that is still coming from the area.

It’s possible that in some instances, the really big stars will have been persuaded to shift to one of the remaining local drivetime shows. But there’s also an opportunity there for some rival local stations to pick up those leading presenter locally and get them over to a rival station toute suite.

At the very least, if I was a Global rival I would consider making localness a big part of my next marketing campaign, pointing out that my presenter is broadcasting live from the city they’re broadcasting to. Make sure those sweepers tell listeners that you’re live from the locality.


Do audiences even need their radio stations to be local any longer? They have mobile phones that give them the news, weather and traffic information. Don’t audiences just want to be entertained by the biggest and best shows?

The strange thing is that, yes, sometimes people do like localness. It can’t be repeated often enough that the biggest TV news programme of the day, and cumulatively, often the biggest overall TV programme of the day, is the 6.30pm local BBC news bulletin.

Who do people turn to when there are freak weather conditions? Or when the local car plant is announced as closing down? Or when there’s a search for a missing person locally? Or just a discussion about the closure of local libraries?

Is this territory all being ceded to the BBC?

BBC Local Radio is making a concerted effort to represent local communities more. And with the decline in local newspapers, and the abject failure of local TV, the BBC almost certainly maintains the biggest local news organisation in the country. However much of a supporter of the BBC I might be, it can’t be healthy for there not to be any significant competition.

There is also Community Radio of course – there are approaching 300 community stations across the UK.

But they have some significant limitations placed upon them. They are materially limited in how much advertising revenue they can make, and unless they’ve got onto one of the experimental DAB multiplexes, their broadcast footprint is usually very small.

All of that means that they usually run on a bit of a shoestring and rely heavily on volunteers. And even though there are more community stations than local commercial stations, their cumulative coverage is much smaller. Large metropolitan areas are often un-served by community stations, or they’re targeting very narrow (but nonetheless underserved) audiences. These stations are too small to be measured by RAJAR, so they struggle to provide audience figures to their funders. Community Radio isn’t easy.

But it must be said that every time Ofcom advertises a licence for a community service, there is usually a stream of applicants who want to have a go.

What Happens Next?

I don’t know.

We’re only really talking about Bauer here. The other remaining groups are so small that they can probably network themselves as much as they wish. Or they’ve just sold their local assets to Bauer anyway.

I would expect that Bauer will observe carefully what happens and make their own decisions from there. It’s not inevitable that they’ll plough the same furrow as Global. As I’ve said here, there are opportunities in some areas for them to fight for local audiences. But at the same time, it would be naive not to think that ultimately there are potential cost savings that come with networking.

Today, the opportunities in radio certainly seem to be happening at a national rather than local scale. But consider too that the industry is facing a rearguard fight against the onslaught of multi-billion dollar streaming companies who are targeting those billion or so listening hours a week that UK consumers spend with the radio.

Not that any of this salves the wounds if you’ve been affected by today’s news.

The Fragmentation of the UK Radio Sector

I’ve yet to properly write about the recently published RAJAR report, Audio Time, based on the last MIDAS survey. That will come. But it does implicitly present some food for thought about the future of radio in the UK, identifying some of the threats it may face.

“Amongst 15-24s, the weekly reach of radio is very similar to the total population, but there is a clear
preference for online forms of audio – the most widely used being online music video on sites like YouTube.”

After last week’s RAJAR release, I highlighted some serious concerns about how much the amount of 15-24s listening to radio falling.

To overturn some of these trends is going to take something of a concerted effort from everyone in the radio industry. These aren’t trends that can be ignored because we can’t just expect people to discover radio when they get a bit older.

So it’s interesting at this point in time, to note how fractured UK radio actually is.

Obviously, I’m not talking about industry ownership. That’s more consolidated than ever, with Global and Bauer dominating, and the latter having just bought up Orion. But not everyone in radio is singing from the same hymn sheet.

The news that Global Radio has pulled its Patron support from the Radio Academy has, I fear, been a while in coming. For those who haven’t been following recent developments, in short the Radio Academy over-spent on major events like their Awards (aka the Sony Radio Awards) and the Radio Festival, and had to make nearly all its permanent staff redundant – with just a temporary CEO left in place.

The Radio Academy Awards were cancelled altogether – the last set of awards were in 2014, and there is currently no sign of a replacement despite promises of its return. A pretty dreadful state of affairs. If you make great radio, there’s nowhere for you to compete against all of your peers. It’s not just about having a shiny piece of perspex in a cabinet somewhere; award recognition can drive someone’s career.

Meanwhile, the Radio Festival was slimmed down and moved to London, and the organisation has been trying to reshape itself, although the recent news about Global’s withdrawal from the Radio Academy suggests that an overall appeasement has not reached. (It’s also worth reading what Paul Easton thinks about the situation and what it means for members like him.)

But beyond squabbles within the Radio Academy, if you look across the wider industry, these are not the only lines of disagreement:

  • Wireless Group, formerly UTV, pulled out of commercial radio’s trade body RadioCentre a few years ago now, as did UKRD. (As a consequence, neither enter the Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards, even though the awards are now open to all commercial stations, regardless of RadioCentre membership.)
  • There are certainly differences of opinion over DAB and it took tortuous negotiations to agree a Memorandum of Understanding between commercial groups, the BBC and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. And you certainly won’t find uniform agreement about any kind of potential “switch-off” or “switchover” to a fully digital broadcasting solution. As we get closer to a symbolic 50% digital listening percentage, those differences in opinion will probably only widen
  • RadioPlayer is a joined up success and most stations have bought full into it. Yet visit some of Bauer’s sites (example link) and you still won’t get the universal player as you would with Global, the BBC and most other commercial stations, despite Bauer being a shareholder in the group as a result of its purchase of Absolute Radio.
  • The only real pan-radio group is RAJAR – everyone uses the same currency. Except, of course, some smaller commercial stations and most community stations, since RAJAR’s methodology would not satisfactorily measure these stations without increasing costs massively.

I should point out most people use RadioCentre’s Clearance services to ensure that advertising copy is fully complied, and pretty much all national radio advertising is scheduled via the JICRIT system for trading.

And of course an entire industry will never see eye to eye on everything – you wouldn’t expect any industry to do so. But radio, a medium now facing unparalleled challenges, really doesn’t present a particularly united front on anything.

Following Global’s withdrawal from the Radio Academy, On Twitter, I wondered, with my tongue only very slightly in my cheek, whether in fact Sound Women was now the de facto pan-industry radio group?

Sound Women of course has a specific set of aims and ambitions, notably: “to build the confidence, networking and leadership skills of women in audio.”

To those ends, they hold events and festivals, provide training, and including a regional programme.

They’re open to all – including men – and, at least at time of writing, I believe that they’re supported by most of the radio industry including Global, Bauer and the BBC, as well as several radio indies, Skillset, RadioCentre and Ofcom. Oh, and the Radio Academy!

I must confess that I’m not a member, in large part, I suspect, because I know I would feel like an usurper attending their events. I’m a white middle-class man after all.

(Aside: It’s perhaps also because my own bête noire is the representation of diversity in radio. It shouldn’t just be defined in terms of sex or ethnicity either. As I’ve argued before, social background is at least as important, because we’re not talking to our audience while our industry is predominantly middle-class. With so many routes to entry based around unpaid work experience, we’re effectively barring those without private incomes or who’s parents can’t support them.)

Sound Women is doing an excellent job in raising key issues about the gender imbalance in radio, audio, and indeed the wider media.

But beyond them, who’s looking after the rank and file of those who work in radio, audio and beyond? What’s the venue for sharing knowledge and learning from our peers? The Radio Festival and Hall of Fame are all very well, but only a minority get to attend. The Festival tends to be aimed at managerial types. Yes – that includes me. Meanwhile the Hall of Fame is somewhere to take your talent – or for the most senior people in your station to schmooze.

Regional Radio Academy events were open to all. Anyone could attend – even non-members for a small fee. You could learn, network and discuss relevant issues with your peers. For many members – most members? – these were the only things the Radio Academy directly offered them.

Is this being lost?

Now, if you work at a Global Radio station, you’ll need to personally spend at least £36 a year to get along to an event. That said prior to notification of the upcoming 30 Under 30 event, I honestly can’t remember the last time there was an event in London – and like it or not, that’s where the big groups, and a large proportion of Radio Academy members live and work. (Yes – I know that regional events have been rather better organised, with a number of events taking place recently).

One way or another, at a time when the medium is under attack from a variety of interlopers in the radio and audio world, the industry doesn’t appear to speak with a singular voice on pretty much anything. And now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t even a single representative organisation for everyone in radio.

This seems a pretty appalling state of affairs. Maybe I’m making it sound worse than it is, but you’re going to have to work to persuade me otherwise.

It seems that corporate differences, entrenched views and personal grievances have won the day. Will the all the UK’s commercial radio groups be sending delegates to the UK’s main radio conference later this year? Will they all speak at the event? Will talent regardless of station be eligible for the Hall of Fame? Perhaps the answer to all of these will in fact be ‘Yes.’ But these are awkward questions that we shouldn’t have to be asking.

Is it time to start afresh and do something different? Do we need something that is open to all without corporate involvement? Something for individuals and beyond the reach/interference of organisations? Of course doing something different will have costs, and that raises the question of funding. In many industries, corporate patronage is a key part of making these kinds of groups viable. Is that something we need to rethink in the future if at a corporate level, agreements can’t be reached?

Yes, there are independent operations – conferences like Next Radio (The 2016 conference has just been announced!) and Radiodays Europe. But they’re relatively few, and in the latter’s case, at nearly €1000 a delegate, few employees of stations are likely to dip into their own pocket to attend, meaning that you have to rely on your employer’s support.

I look slightly enviously at Television where the BAFTA Awards still happen – BBC; ITV; C4; Sky; Netflix; Amazon; everybody represented. There’s a conference in Edinburgh that anyone serious in the industry must attend. There are events for both BAFTA and Royal Television Society members. There’s a trade body that all the major commercial groups are members of.

I’m sure it’s not all perfect, and that there are differences between members. But it looks somewhat rosier than radio from where I’m sitting.

At a time when global giants like Apple and Google are investing ever more into audio, can UK radio be outward, joined-up and inclusive, rather than inward, fractured and narcissistic?

Super-serving Men 20-44

Today we finally heard a few details* about the relaunch of Xfm as Radio X. The much mooted re-branding sees Chris Moyles take over breakfast, with Vernon Kay on mid-mornings and Johnny Vaughan on drive.

Jon Holmes will move to weekend breakfast, when Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs (and The Voice) will have a show. While I’ve not seen the full schedule, it’s clear that some people will be staying and others going – Eddie Temple Morris will be taking his long-running The Remix show to Soho Radio for example.

The station will also be going onto the national D1 DAB platform – albeit another mono station – where it’s replacing Teamrock.

Re-brands are never easy, since audiences hate change. A quick glance at Xfm’s Facebook page shows that. But Global know what to expect – they’ve re-branded much of the UK’s commercial radio output over the last few years, as they built the Heart and Capital networks.

But sad though it is for those who love the station as it is now, something really had to be done with Xfm. Essentially it has been a bit of a basket case for a while, not getting to a million listeners in a while, and suffering especially in the London marketplace. And it’s notable that the small Paisley FM licence has been handed back to Ofcom.

That’s not to say that those that listen don’t love it. They don’t want changes as they like it as it is. But with lack of investment and a resurgent 6 Music becoming the “cool” station, it couldn’t easily carry on as it was.

One place that Xfm has actually always done well in is the advertising community. Advertisers love being involved in cool brands. And over the years, despite poor listening figures, Xfm was able to captialise on that. The audience may be small, but it was passionate and otherwise hard to reach. So like those strange magazines that seem like bastard children of Nathan Barley’s Sugar Ape, selling virtually no copies but being very profitable, so was Xfm able to get by. But following its threatened closure, it was 6 Music that had the kudos. And that’s what Global needs to get back.

It’s been reported that Moyles want’s to double Xfm’s audience. To be honest, that should be achievable considering the starting point. And it doesn’t actually have to do as well as 6 Music in audience terms to be a success. The BBC can’t take advertising, but Radio X can.

The wider question is what this means for its target audience. The press release for Radio X says that it will be “a completely new national music and entertainment property for 25-44 year old men.”

Well that’s essentially the same demographic that Absolute Radio is already targeting and has been for many years.

And there’s there the forthcoming version of Virgin Radio, from UTV and the Virgin Group in the new year. We are again promised a service that will target 25-44 year olds.

That’s suddenly a lot of stations all targeting the same people.

But just because you’re targeting the same audience, it doesn’t mean that the music will be the same. The Radio X press release says they’ll be playing: “Florence And The Machine, Mumford And Sons, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Maccabees, Radiohead, Nirvana, The Smiths, Royal Blood, Kasabian, Catfish And The Bottlemen and Kings Of Leon.”

Except that all bar five of those artists appear in the top 40 most played artists on Absolute Radio according to Comparemyradio. And of the remaining five:

– Absolute Radio plays Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds more than any other service on Comparemyradio
– Absolute Radio is the third biggest player of The Maccabees and Royal Blood
– Absolute Radio is the fifth biggest player of Nirvana after stablemates Absolute Radio 90s, Absolute Classic Rock, Kerrang! and Planet Rock

Only Catfish and the Bottlemen haven’t been on Absolute Radio is the last 30 days. But then, of the stations Comparemyradio measures, they’ve only had a handful of plays on TCR and Radio 1 period. (Note that Xfm isn’t currently monitored by Comparemyradio).

In other words, this isn’t going to be an entirely unique sound.

And as a commenter on Digital Spy noted, there is some disparity between the a station who’s character of service claims its targeting 15-34 year olds, and one who’s commercial aim is to target men 25-44.

So Global is starting over. From the characters of the presenters in the key drive slots, you’d imagine that speech will be as important as the music they play – and that’s ever more true amongst an audience that is perfectly able to find music on its own without the help of a radio station.

To go for a full rebrand would suggest that they feel the need to leave the Xfm brand behind. It just isn’t cool and can’t regain that coolness. I think what’ll be important is how they market the station. Global isn’t scared to spend a lot of money on marketing and we’ve seen big and bold commercials for the Heart and Capital brands. Radio X will be harder. For example few stations truly advertise nationally on television, even if they’re national brands like Global’s because it’s very expensive to do that. I would imagine that much of the Radio X budget will go towards its FM sites in London and Manchester. While both are highly competitive radio markets, it’s the obvious starting point (and the ad agencies are in London which is important). But digital marketing will also be key for this audience.

Anyone looking for Moyles to repeat what he did at Radio 1 would be foolish. That audience has moved on. I wouldn’t expect to see anyone too worried at Radio 1. But it will be interesting to see what Bauer does to combat the threat, particularly to Absolute Radio. It does have its successful Absolute Radio Network to support it, but this probably represents the biggest direct competition the station has had in its history. I wonder if there will be any marketing budget released to compete a bit.

* Incidentally, Global really needs to redesign its corporate site. It’s just dreadful for navigation, and not remotely responsive in design.

RAJAR Q2 2015

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 8 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

The first thing to say is that this has been a good quarter for radio as a whole. Overall reach is back to 90%, and listening hours have increased too, with the average radio listener listening for 21.7 hours a week – the highest in a couple of years.

Commercial radio is likely to be pleased too, since it has gained back a little from the BBC, with 44.4% of listening being commercial (up from 42.8% last quarter), compared with 53.0% to the BBC (down from 54.4% last quarter). Commercial has gained too, compared with this time last year.

And because it’s always keenly watched, the number of people who listen via a digital platform at least some point during the week has grown to over 60% of the population for the first time (61.1% up from 59.8% last quarter). The amount of listening via those platforms has also grown – up to 39.9% of all listening.

Let’s look in a bit more detail at the performances of some of the key players.

National Stations

Radio 1 has notably bounced back since last quarter’s results. Indeed those previous numbers do now look a little of an aberration, and are a reminder that nobody should ever judge a station’s figures on the basis of a single RAJAR period. The station’s reach has increased by 7.6% and is back over 10 million, while hours have increased by 3.3% on the previous quarter. It’s true that they’re still down on the previous year, but I think they’d take these numbers.

Radio 2 has also improved from last quarter a fraction – but you would probably argue it’s results are flat. Still not bad for the biggest station in the UK/Europe/World/Universe (Delete as applicable).

Radio 3 has dropped below 2m again, although it’ll undoubtedly return next quarter (Proms), but its listening hours are up nearly 5% (and enormously on the previous year).

Here’s an interesting question: who do you think has the higher average age? Radio 3 or Radio 4?

In fact, the average age of a Radio 3 listener is 57, and that of a Radio 4 listener is 56. The variability of those averages is probably quite different however.

Radio 4 fell marginally this quarter, although it’s up on the previous year and still reaches 10.6m people a week.

Five Live is still clearly finding its feet following all its schedule changes, and is back down this quarter – 7.6% down in reach, but only 2.4% down in hours. That does leave it well down on the previous year however. And there’s not really a big summer of sport to help get things straightened out, so it’ll be worth watching.

Classic FM will be disappointed with its results. It’s reach and hours are both down on the quarter and the year, with reach in particular at an all time low under the current RAJAR methodology (so since 1999). It still reaches nearly 5.3m people, but it’s something to keep an eye on. There can be a bitter war of words between it and Radio 3, when they think the latter is dumbing down to appeal to Classic FM’s audience. But Classic FM’s audience is 2.5x Radio 3’s, and as we’ve established, Radio 3’s audience fell this quarter too.

Talksport will also be disappointed by this set of results, which include the end of the football season. Both reach and hours are down on the previous quarter, and over 10% down on the previous year. It’s reach still hovers above 3m, while hours are above 20m. It’ll be hoping that the forthcoming sister services which are due to launch next year on D2 will help grow a “Talk” network.

Meanwhile the main Absolute Radio station has seen its reach stay flat while hours have grown – quite substantially on the year. With the station due to take over the West Midlands FM licence currently used to broadcast Planet Rock, it should mean some further growth in the coming quarters (although such format switches always take time to bed in locally).

National Digital Stations

Overall Bauer has had a very good quarter with several of its brands achieving record audiences.

The Absolute Radio Network now reaches a record high of 4.04m people a week with just less than 32m hours. And that’s without including Planet Rock’s figures with which it is bundled when sold. That comes off the back of yet more growth on Absolute 80s which jumped another 10.7% in reach on the previous quarter, and much more on the previous year. At 1.6m reach, it’s getting ever closer to the 2.0m that the main brand gets. (I remain uncertain as to the plan to move Absolute 80s off D1 and onto D2 at launch, since the lower reach of the new multiplex must surely effect these numbers negatively. We’ll have to wait and see).

The Kiss Network has also achieved some great growth with over 5m reach and 30.5m hours – both records. These are helped especially by some very significant improvements in Kisstory which has seen nearly a 30% increase in reach and a more than 40m increase in hours. And Kisstory has yet to launch properly nationally on DAB, currently only appearing on a series on local DAB multiplexes.

The nascent Magic Network also did well. It too has a sister station due with D2.

Global Radio has perhaps more of a mixed bag this quarter.

The Capital Brand has increased in reach and hours this quarter – a modest 1.9% in reach, but a more chunky 9.7% in hours. But both are down on the previous year.

Heart is more disappointing. Overall it’s down 1.4% in reach and 6.8% in hours, with both measures down on the year too. It’s also not clear when the previously announced Heart Extra is likely to launch which might help prop up the brand a little. It was announced in December last year, but the presumed spot on the D1 multiplex was retained by Premier Christian Radio after negotiations with multiplex operator (Premier has signed up until 2028 according to reports).

Smooth has also shown some disappointing results this quarter, down in reach and hours, although not as bad on the year. While Xfm is flat in reach, but down further in hours – another 7% down on the quarter and 12% down on the year. The radio industry is currently awash with rumours that Chris Moyles is going to Xfm, which may even get a full rebrand and relaunch. We’ll have to see.

LBC has had some very strong results, with its reach up strongly on both the quarter and the year. The station is now showing some real growth since it went national towards the start of last year. We could be in for some interesting battles between LBC and Talkradio once it launches.

It feels like every quarter that I report that 6 Music has had a record reach. Well it hasn’t this quarter – it’s actually down by a paltry 9,000 listeners. But it’s had record hours. With its listeners spending 9.1 hours a week, this is not an “additional” station, this is very much a main station for those 2m people.

1Xtra has had a strong quarter, up a lot in reach (14.2%) and an enormous amount in listening hours (47%). This probably reflects a bit of freak set of results last quarter as much as anything though.

Radio 4 Extra had extraordinarily high results last quarter, so perhaps unsurprisingly it has fallen – back below 2m listeners. It is still well up on the previous year though (+25% in reach and +37% in hours), so I’d say that it’s still a confidently growing station.

And it’s been a very strong result for 5 Live Sports Extra – even in a period before The Ashes began (although there was other cricket). Reach is up 21% and hours are up nearly 50%! Even though this represents a record high reach, I would expect both figures to increase further with the current Ashes campaign driving them.

Finally, since it’s very close to home for me now, I should report that listening to the BBC World Service is up very a very solid 14% in reach on the quarter and a similar amount on the year. Hours are a more modest 3% up.

London Stations

While I’m sure some readers think that London radio gets too much attention paid to it, I always think as much as anything it’s worth paying to attention to because it’s proved a good indicator of where radio is heading in the UK as a whole. It’s obviously of key importance to agencies buying advertising on commercial stations as well.

The figures this quarter show that all radio listening is at 89% (up from 86%) which compares well with 90% overall. What that means is that although Spotify, Apple Music and everyone else is fighting it out for supremacy, it’s not had a massive impact on radio… at least not yet. Indeed radio listening in London is up 9.4% on the previous quarter too, with radio listeners in London spending an average of 20.5 hours listening to the radio every week. So perhaps last quarter’s numbers were a one-off?

Interestingly, most of that growth this quarter has come from commercial radio with the BBC broadly flat in reach, and up 2.8% in hours. It’s also worth pointing out that in London, unlike nationally, commercial radio is more listened to than the BBC, with 51.0% of listening compared with the BBC’s 45.6%.

That all said, Radio 4 remains the most listened to station in the capital, but you’re really interested in the battle between the commercial stations aren’t you?

I think the big London news is that Global has had a great quarter. Capital has scored its highest reach in quite a while, jumping 22.7%. And it’s hours are also up 20.7%. That gives Capital the number one commercial spot in London, as it just beats Kiss. The 80,000 difference between the two is about the number of people who get to go to Capital’s Summertime Ball! Its sister brand Capital Xtra has also done well – up to such a great extent, that we know that last quarter’s data probably shouldn’t even be looked at.

Heart too seems to be back from a recent slump, jumping nearly 30% in reach to close to 2m. Hours growth is more modest, but it’s back over 10m.

Meanwhile it turns out that Xfm isn’t dead in London, and Smooth too is turning it around.

LBC is again a strong performer, and its listening hours shouldn’t be underestimated – it’s number two in London under that measure.

But number one in hours is Bauer’s Kiss which has also had a very strong reach performance jumping to 2.12m – its highest ever. It’s hours were up 26% on the quarter and reach up 12.6%. With Magic putting in some solid growth in reach and hours, only Absolute Radio’s London performance will have disappointed them a little (down in reach and hours on the quarter although up on the year).


I’m not going to dwell long on this and just consider Radio 1 and Radio 2, since both presenters have some interesting new TV jobs coming up and it’ll be worth seeing whether it makes any difference to their ratings over the coming months.

Nick Grimshaw takes on co-presenting duties of The X-Factor later this month, and this quarter has seen his reach increase by 6.2% to 5.8m. While Chris Moyles has previously had in excess of 7m listeners for the Radio 1 breakfast show, we’ve not seen numbers like that since the start of 2012. The other thing to watch here would be any kind of “Moyles effect” should he show up on Xfm, and should Xfm be given a significant marketing budget and be made available nationally on DAB. Lots of ifs there. And it’s been a while since Moyles was on the radio, so where are those listeners now? Nothing is certain.

Meanwhile Chris Evans on Radio 2 has also had a decent set of results with increase in reach and hours. While neither are quite records, you’d have to go back to the start of 2012 to find the last time listeners spent so much time with Radio 2’s breakfast show. Evans of course, is taking over Top Gear from next year. And there’s also another run of TFI Friday planned. Can he keep all this up and his Radio 2 show? We’ll have to see.

No bubbles this quarter I’m afraid. Hopefully they’ll be back next time.

But instead, I thought I’d show you some audience overlap figures between some station pairings. Broadly speaking radio listeners hear fewer stations than TV viewers watch stations. But there are overlaps between services, and it’s always worth having a look to see who listens to otherwise similar stations – and who doesn’t.

Radio 1 v Capital Network


So just to explain this chart, it means that 2.4m people listen to both Radio 1 and Capital, while 7.6m Radio 1 listeners never listen to Capital, and 4.7m Capital listeners never listen to Radio 1 (At least across a single week).

Radio 2 v Heart (Network)


Radio 3 v Classic FM


Five Live v Talksport


Radio 1 v Radio 3

Well – there was a Radio 1 Prom this year!


NB. These charts are not necessarily quite to scale – I “hand” drew them in Photoshop.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic probably here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for analysis including London
Matt Deegan usually has some analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Sadly the One Golden Square blog seems to have died, but you could try Bauer Media’s site.
And it’s entirely likely you’ll find Global Radio here.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 28 June 2015, Adults 15+. One other thing to note is that RAJAR updates its population estimates in Q2 each year, so we’ve seen the UK adult population grow slightly this quarter, although only by 1.3% nationally.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

Radio Radio

A couple of interesting stories today with news that finally there’s a signed agreement to rollout local DAB coverage to 91.2% of FM equivalence. This has been a little while coming – to say the least – but now it’s here and the first of 182 new transmitters should be built in March.

Why 91.2% of FM equivalence? Well it’s a very nuanced balancing act with hundreds of transmitters required to cover every nook and cranny of the country. And the closer you get to 100% the gains disappear quickly. You might have to spend thousands of pounds on a transmitter that will only reach tens of people.

And the good news is that on many of those local transmitters, there is space for new services. While it’s an expensive way to reach a national audience, it becomes more achievable if you want to reach a local audience (And yes, I appreciate that cost is in the eye of the beholder – for some smaller ILRs or community stations, local DAB remains beyond their means).

The other interesting news is that UTV is reported to be considering selling its portfolio of English local services to concentrate on Talksport and its TV services including the just-launched Ireland Live, which has snaffled many of TV3’s ITV shows.

Media Guardian speculates that UKRD or Orion might be interested. I think it’s less likely that Bauer or Global will be rushing out because there are probably some ownership issues with either group snapping them up. And following Global’s tortuous negotiations over its GMG acquisition and subsequent sale, they’re probably not up for the fight. Bauer already has a position of strength in the north of England, and while it could strip costs out of the

What’s perhaps more interesting is who ends up selling the services, and do they do a licencing deal and re-brand? The former is especially important because Bauer and Global have the radio marketplace sewn up between them. The stations would instantly have improved revenues if either sales house represented them. If Communicorp bought them, then expect the services to quickly adopt Global brands and for Global to sell their national advertising.

The irony is that a sale to a group that hands the national sales contract to Global or Bauer, will only make life a little more difficult for Talksport who effectively stands alone in the radio marketplace. They have a strong proposition, but share deals mean that no matter how good that might be, they’re left with a diminished share to fight for.

Radio Extra

Earlier this week, Global announced that it would soon be launching Heart Extra on national DAB. This is the first of a big DAB push.

They already have Smooth Christmas running on the platform, and that rebrands as Smooth Extra from December 27th. They also have Capital XTRA, LBC and Classic FM all on the same DAB multiplex. The press release also promises “more to come,” although it’s not clear how many more stations “more” means.

Anyway, for Global to add one additional station to the D1 line-up, something has to give. That means one current station has to go to make way for Heart Extra. We know a Global station isn’t going. And Bauer has announced longer term plans for its digital portfolio, including replacing Absolute Radio 90s with Magic.

And we can be certain too that Talksport isn’t going anywhere.

So that leaves three independent services: BFBS, Premier Christian Radio and UCB Christian radio. I believe that at least one of those has to go to make room for Heart.

Furthermore, depending on what kind of bitrate Global wants to run Heart Extra at, they may have to play around with the bitrates of their other stations if they want to broadcast Heart Extra at 80k mono.

For all things bitrate and multiplex related, the go-to site is Wohnort DAB, so I’ve used their reports of the current state of play as a jumping off point.

Here’s a view of what the radio services look like currently, and what they’ll possibly look like in 2015 once Heart Extra is on-air.

Current StationOwnerCurrent Bitrate Possible Station 2015OwnerPossible Bitrate
Absolute RadioBauer112 kbit/sAbsolute RadioBauer112 kbit/s
Absolute 80sBauer64 kbit/sAbsolute 80sBauer64 kbit/s
Absolute Radio 90sBauer64 kbit/sMagicBauer64 kbit/s
KISSBauer80 kbit/sKISSBauer80 kbit/s
Planet RockBauer80 kbit/sPlanet RockBauer80 kbit/s
Capital XTRAGlobal112 kbit/sCapital XTRAGlobal112/80 kbit/s
Classic FMGlobal128 kbit/sClassic FMGlobal128/112 kbit/s
LBCGlobal64 kbit/sLBCGlobal64 kbit/s
Smooth XmasGlobal80 kbit/sSmooth ExtraGlobal80 kbit/s
Heart ExtraGlobal80/64 kbit/s
talkSPORTUTV64 kbit/stalkSPORTUTV64 kbit/s
BFBS RadioBFBS80 kbit/sBFBS RadioBFBS80 kbit/s
Premier Christian RadioPremier64 kbit/sPremier Christian RadioPremier64 kbit/s
UCB UK ChristianUCB64 kbit/sUCB UK ChristianUCB64 kbit/s

The three at risk stations are italicised at the bottom of the right hand side of the table.

Furthermore, for Global to launch another DAB service right now, then a second of these stations would need to go as well.

Another thing to consider is the forthcoming “D2” multiplex. There was a late extension from Ofcom for applications, strongly suggesting that we will see at least two competitive bids by the closing date at the end of January. That said, you may see some of the same services crop up on both bids.

The timetable from the end of January is for Ofcom to look at the applications, fire lots of questions at the applicants and generally put everyone through the mill. Ofcom says that it will announce an award “as soon as practicable thereafter.” I would anticipate an announcement sometime during the summer. In reality, that means the earliest new services could get up and running would be sometime in early 2016, so there’s a while to go before any more new space appears.

What all this means is that if a service gets bumped off Digital One today (or outbid anyway), then it’s going to take them a while to get back onto a national DAB multiplex, because it’ll be another year before more space is available.

It’ll be interesting to see what Global and others do in the meantime.

[Update: 16 December 2014] It’s now official that Premier Christian Radio hasn’t secured an extension to its place on Digital One. Radio Today reports that Premier has a temporary extension allowing them to run from this weekend through Christmas until February. But it’s clear that Premier wants to remain on the multiplex, while Global claims to have “more to come.” Arqiva won’t be complaining then…

Changing From Real Radio to Heart Mightn’t Be All Plain Sailing

Aside from the publication of new RAJAR figures, the big news in radio today was the sale of seven stations by Global, which was forced on them by the Competition Commission.

Since Global finally gave up their legal challenges against the Commission’s ruling, this day was always coming, and it’s got to be of some consolation to the staff working at these services that it’s finally here.

Matt’s written a pretty good summary of what’s going to happen, and which stations will be run by Communicorp, the Irish group that’s taking ownership of the services. John Myers’ piece is also well worth a read.

I do have a few further thoughts though:

Firstly, do we really know that Global has sold these stations for as much as £35m? It’d be excellent business if they have, since that’d be pro-rata what they paid the Guardian Media Group for them. I suspect that we’ll have to wait another twelve months or so to see their books for this financial year. It was only in their recently published figures that we learnt that they paid £69m in the first place for the whole group.

The reason I question the value is that although I think there’s good business to be had, a franchise arrangement does leave Communicorp having to dance to someone else’s tune. While they get to enjoy the value of Global’s marketing, they also have little freedom in how they programme the stations. In the same way that a McDonald’s franchisee has to accept that they can’t adjust the menu.

Global will continue to sell all the brands nationally, leaving Communicorp with local sales, and perhaps a share of national sales.

Global certainly has a whip hand in all of this.

On the other hand, the costs and overheads for Communicorp are potentially reduced since they really just need local presenters as required under their Ofcom format in regard to localness, and a local sales team. Global is able to provide many other services including playlists and production.

I suspect that Denis O’Brien is a shrewd operator and that the numbers add up somehow. Those Global books will be worth checking out at the end of the year though.

The other major issue that I’ve heard nobody talk about, is any potential regulatory hurdles that Global (and Communicorp) will need to overcome to rebrand the services. In particular, I’m thinking of the rebranding of Real Radio stations to Heart.

This is a contentious issue in the radio industry, with many thinking that Ofcom meddle too much with formats. As it stands, FM formats are reasonably heavily regulated, Ofcom arguing that public spectrum is scarce. So while you can essentially call your station what you like, you still have to abide by the format restrictions that the licence was offered under.

A great case in point is a recent ruling against Heart Cornwall. At the start of the year, Ofcom found that Heart Cornwall was in breach of its licence. You can read the full ruling here (P63 of a PDF document).

Heart Cornwall was established when Global bought the previous licensee, Atlantic FM. However in doing so, Global has to abide to the previous licence. A licensee can request changes to the licence, but Ofcom often consults on major changes. In this instance, Global had previously requested a format change, but that was rejected.

This might all sound a bit arcane, but the reason that Heart Cornwall was later found in breach was because, in Ofcom’s eyes, the service had strayed too far from its licence requirements, and in particular the local speech element of the licence wasn’t being upheld. Although there was significant speech during the local breakfast show, Ofcom felt that speech had to be broadcast throughout the day.

And there’s the problem – the Heart brand is primarily a music proposition. Adding speech into the mix – especially outside breakfast – can dilute that. And this becomes harder when you have networked shows such as Toby Anstis’s morning show. How do you reconcile Cornwall needing speech when London doesn’t?

What you may or may not be aware of is that even today, not all Hearts are the same. And the easiest way to show that is to look at their licence formats.

Look first at the format for Heart London:


Now compare that with Heart Swindon/West Wiltshire:


The reason for the difference is that the latter service was actually one of the earlier commercial services, and under its former guise of GWR, it was essentially a pop station – a commercial competitor to Radio 1. Heart London, on the other hand, was the original Heart, and came along 13 years later when a whole bunch of new FM licences were launched. There was already a pop station in London of course – Capital. So Heart’s licence had to be distinct and different from Capital.

Somehow Global has to reconcile a AC station with a hit music station. And in reality, that does mean that depending which Heart you listen to, you might hear a slightly different music mix. Of course music doesn’t come clearly defined – so most of the music you hear on most Hearts is probably quite close. But there is always that constraint.

What does that have to do with Real Radio? Well check out some of the Real Radio licences.

Real Radio Yorkshire:


Real Radio South Wales:


Now it’s fair to point out that Real had previously asked for and had approved some very specific additions to its news provision in late 2012 and early 2013.

I imagine the gamble is that by agreeing to better news provision in some parts of the schedule, Ofcom might in due course allow more music to be played in daytime.

But the Cornish findings doesn’t make that a certainty. Global, and others in the industry, are likely to continue the fight to free up licences further. But at the moment, I forsee some tensions when Reals are rebranded Heart.

In the end, the Heart a listener hears is the Heart they know. Heart listeners in London don’t expect, and don’t get, a 20 minute news programme in the evening. On the other hand those in Scotland do. And if there’s a bit more chat during the day, then it’s only radio anoraks who notice that it has a different style to other Hearts. And advertisers of course, are just buying the entire network.

In other news, RadioCentre has a new CEO. Siobhan Kenny has previously worked in DCMS at the time Ofcom was being setup. That might be handy if the industry wants to ramp up efforts to pursue greater freedom in formats…