The weekly reach of radio in the United Kingdom has remained remarkably consistent over the past ten years, remaining at 90 percent for 2005 – 2014 before finally dipping to 89.3 percent in the first quarter of this year. That could explain why radio ad spend has remained so resilient even as spend on other traditional forms of media is falling – advertisers are being sold on that consistent audience reach.

But the definition of ‘reach’ is, largely, unhelpful, being defined as “the number of people (adults 15+) in the UK who listened to a radio station for at least five minutes in the course of an average week during the quarter”. It essentially tells us nothing about the consumption habits of UK radio audiences other than the fact that nine out of ten people happen to be near an active radio for five minutes a week.

So what about other factors involved, such as actual time spent listening? And who are the audience members responsible for keeping that reach figure so high? Where are they choosing to consume radio content? We’ve dug into the data from Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) to pull out five key facts about how radio consumption in Britain is changing.

Younger audiences are far more likely to listen to commercial radio


Radio listeners under the age of 45 are far more likely to be reached by commercial radio rather than the state-funded, ad-free BBC stations, and that trend has remained fairly consistent since the first available RAJAR data back in 2011. As a result…

The overall share of BBC vs. commercial radio listening has remained consistent


There has been no appreciable difference in the proportion of listenership to the BBC and commercial radio. The graph does show, though, how thoroughly the BBC’s national and regional radio stations still influences the British public, and has done since RAJAR began recording its data this way almost a decade ago.

For context on that last point, here’s how many hours are spent listening to the BBC’s national stations, compared to three of the biggest commercial stations.


Overall time spent listening to radio is falling

While the reach of radio might be consistent, the simple fact of the matter is that overall time spent actually listening to radio is falling, both on commercial radio (where it’s important to note that the biggest falls have been in the youngest and oldest age ranges)…


and on the BBC’s radio stations:


A quick glance at the vertical axes of the above two graphs will also demonstrate that, while the amount of time spent listening to the BBC’s stations is higher overall, the youngest age range (15 – 24) is only now listening to as much BBC radio as commercial – and that only because the amount of time spent listening to commercial radio has significantly fallen in that bracket. 

The RAJAR figures demonstrate that, while radio’s reach might have remained consistent, radio listenership is under just as much pressure from competition as any other medium. While radio might still retain a certain advantage in that its audience is generally a captive one (in cars, on the tube etc.) are captive audiences, the medium is facing increasing competition as digital video and podcasts become more widespread. We’ll be exploring some of the implications of the above in the next few weeks.