Rajar figures reveal changing listening habits as people move from breakfast to pre-lunchtime shows
Ken Bruce has retained his title as the most listened-to radio presenter in the UK, as the Radio 2 host continues the trend of mid-morning programmes attracting more listeners than breakfast shows.
The pre-lunchtime 10am slot was traditionally seen as a radio backwater, as mocked by Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge presenting a show called Mid Morning Matters. By contrast, the breakfast show tended to be the biggest show on any station’s lineup, with people tuning in as they got ready for work, headed to school or drove their car.
Years of changing listening habits, exacerbated by the pandemic, have now upended the status quo on many stations, according to the latest Rajar listening figures, which cover the first three months of 2022.
Bruce attracted 8.4 million listeners a week, beating the 7.4 million people who tuned in to Zoë Ball’s breakfast show. Other mid-morning shows that are reaching more people than their station’s breakfast programmes include those of LBC’s James O’Brien, TimesRadio’s Matt Chorley and Classic FM’s Alexander Armstrong, according to analysis by the audio consultancy Hallett Arendt.
The pattern is not universal – Radio 4’s Today programme continues to outperform the rest of the station’s output with 6.5 million listeners a week, while Heart’s Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden host the biggest commercial breakfast show in the UK with 3.9 million listeners. But it does suggest a wider shift in listening habits that is forcing radio schedulers to reconsider when they deploy their biggest names.
BBC 6 Music also celebrated its 20th year on air by attracting a record audience of 2.8 million listeners.
There is further evidence that smart speakers – such as Amazon’s Alexa – are increasingly replacing standalone radio sets in people’s houses. The devices, which only took off in popularity in the last few years, already account for about 10% of all radio listening in the UK. They pose a challenge for established radio stations as listeners are prompted to choose a station every time they turn on, rather than leaving a radio constantly tuned to the same outlet.
Elsewhere, the continuing boom in speech radio and political debate has benefited Rupert Murdoch’s TimesRadio, which grew its audience by 40% to 703,000 listeners a week.
TalkRadio, its culture war-loving sister radio station, also hit a record audience figure of 650,000 listeners – causing much delight among some of the station’s staff, who said they have grown the audience over several years while producing shows on a tight budget. They compared the station’s high listening figures to the poor viewing figures of the channel’s talkTV offshoot, the big-budget television show fronted by Piers Morgan.
Both speech outlets remain far behind LBC, owned by the media company Global, which has a national audience of 3.5 million listeners a week and continues to attract listeners with its opinionated hosts.
The rightwing current affairs television channel GB News has also begun broadcasting its audio feed as a national radio station. It managed to attract 239,000 people a week.