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RAJARs: BBC Radio 5 Live sees growth but World Service slumps below 1m in UK

GB News Radio saw 25% annual growth, but remains bottom-ranked on our list.

By Bron Maher

A picture of the sign above the entrance to BBC Broadcasting House, illustrating a break down of how news and current affairs radio stations fared in the RAJARs for Q3 2023.
A BBC sign is displayed outside Broadcasting House in London. Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall

BBC Radio 5 Live and News UK’s Talksport saw double-digit year-on-year growth in their RAJAR figures for the third quarter of 2023, as most speech radio stations struggled to hang onto audiences.

The biggest year-on-year decline came at the BBC World Service, which recorded an average weekly UK audience of below one million for the first time.

But the corporation was bullish about its overall performance, trumpeting a “record” quarter for its audio platform BBC Sounds.

RAJARs Q3 2023: Four news/talk stations grew reach year-on-year

BBC 5 Live saw 14.1% year-on-year growth in its reach and 10.2% quarter-on-quarter growth, recording average weekly listenership between 1 June and 31 August of 5.6 million according to RAJAR.

Talksport grew its weekly audience 11.2% year-on-year to three million, albeit with a 6.6% quarter-on-quarter decline.

The biggest quarter-on-quarter growth came at GB News Radio, the audio-only simulcast of the GB News television station. Its average weekly audience grew 25.6% quarter-on-quarter to 398,000, but was 4.1% down on Q3 2022. Despite the growth, the opinion-led station remains the lowest-ranked national broadcaster on Press Gazette’s list of news/speech stations.

Competitor News UK station Talkradio saw 8.3% year-on-year growth, reaching 690,000 listeners weekly in the most recent quarter. The figure was down 5% on the second quarter of 2023, when it, Talksport and GB News Radio were the only stations on Press Gazette’s list to see year-on-year audience growth.

In Q3 2023’s RAJARs, Global-owned LBC was the only other station on the list to grow its listenership year-on-year, with its London listenership rising 2.1% to 1.4 million and its UK-wide audience growing by just under 1% to 2.5 million.

Nationally the LBC brand, including LBC News, reached 2.9 million listeners with average weekly hours per listener of 9.6. The broadcaster lost 3% of its overall reach year-on-year and 6% quarter-on-quarter.

[From earlier this month: ‘Groundbreaking’ and ‘dreadful’ - Brandreth, Myrie and Kearney among those paying tribute to LBC at 50]

The reach of News UK's Times Radio also declined, dropping 8.1% year-on-year and 4.8% quarter-on-quarter to 498,000.

Scott Taunton, News UK's executive vice president and president of broadcasting, said however that "News Broadcasting has delivered its best-ever listening hours in the latest set of RAJAR results...

"These latest results are a testament to the amazing talent - on and off air - who are creating compelling radio for millions of loyal listeners week in, week out."

BBC Radio 2 still reaches by far the most listeners

BBC Radio 2 remained by far the most listened to station, reaching an average of 13.5 million listeners each week according to RAJAR. The station's reach remained largely flat on the second quarter of 2023, but was down nearly 7% on Q3 2022.

BBC Radio 4, ranked second on the list, saw 4% quarterly growth but 5% year-on-year decline to 9.3 million. It retains the highest average weekly hours per listener on the list, registering 11.8 in the third quarter.

BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme had an average listenership of 5.7 million on Mondays to Saturdays.

BBC Local Radio, which is currently undergoing a restructure to share more content between regional stations, suffered both a 6.2% annual audience decline and a 4.1% quarterly drop.

The World Service's UK audience saw double-digit declines on both metrics, dropping below one million to 940,000 listeners on average during the week. The corporation's annual report published in July similarly said the World Service's global audience had dropped 12% in the year to 31 March - although it retained 318 million viewers and listeners.

The BBC said in a statement that its digital offering "has grown significantly, with a record 602 million plays on BBC Sounds", with Newscast the most listened to podcast on the platform.

BBC chief content officer Charlotte Moore said: “Speech radio continues to thrive with a strong linear showing. There were over 600 million plays on BBC Sounds for all content – a new record and an incredible achievement for a platform we launched only five years ago.

"Our digital offer for audiences continues to go from strength to strength, delivering standout live and on-demand content for listeners, wherever and whenever they need it.”

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