Major BBC radio stations see second consecutive year-on-year drop in listeners

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Some of the BBC’s major radio stations, including Radio 3 and 4, saw audiences rally in the final quarter of 2022 – though listeners were down year-on-year for a second consecutive time, figures show.

Radio 5 Live recorded a strong jump at the end of the year, a period that coincided with the World Cup in Qatar, with its average audience up 14% from 4.9 million in July-September to 5.6 million in October-December.

But the station saw its listeners down 5% compared with October-December 2021 – the second quarterly year-on-year fall in a row.

There was a similar picture at Radio 3 and 4, according to new figures published by Rajar, the audience research body.

Both stations saw audiences in October-December increase compared with the previous three months, by 9% for Radio 3 (to 1.9 million) and 3% for Radio 4 (10.1 million), but fall year-on-year, by 6% and 4% respectively.

It is only the second time year-on-year comparisons of listening figures have been possible since Rajar changed the way it compiles data in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This means it will take time before long-term trends in listeners’ behaviour become evident – in particular, whether audiences are on a clear upwards or downwards path.

The latest data also shows that Radio 2’s audience remained broadly stable in October-December at 14.3 million, down just 1% on the previous three months.

These are the first figures for the station since Steve Wright’s departure from his long-running weekday afternoon show at the end of September.

Radio 2’s audience is down 4% year-on-year.

The World Service saw its listeners jump 9% on the quarter and 5% year-on-year, against a backdrop of events such as the ongoing war in Ukraine and Cop27 in Egypt.

Some 382 jobs are due to go from the World Service as part of plans to move the broadcaster to a more digital-led offering, with the Arabic and Persian radio services among those closing.

BBC Radio 5 Live controller and head of BBC Salford, Heidi Dawson, said: “Our quarterly results have been really positive with more than 5.5 million weekly listeners, and our audience outside of London rising by half a million listeners.

“The sensational coverage of the Fifa World Cup has boosted listening, and as the UK’s only national radio station based outside the capital, people from across the country feel they can talk to us about the everyday issues important to them, like the rising cost of living.”

Smaller commercial radio stations experienced mixed success.

GB News Radio, which launched at the start of 2022, saw listeners fall quarter-on-quarter by 26%, from 415,000 to 306,000 – though this is still higher than the 239,000 reported for January-March.

TalkRadio’s audience stood at 608,000 in October-December, down 5% on the quarter but up 12% year-on-year.

Times Radio, which launched in June 2020, reported an average audience of 563,000, up 4% on the previous quarter.

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