Valentine’s Day is just a week away, but how’s the relationship going between UK radio and its listeners? Is love in the air, or are some stations being “ghosted”. The RAJAR results for Q4 2018 are in and our experts have been working hard to bring you the highlights.

It’s clear that the UK’s feelings for radio remain strong – All Radio reach is now 48.4 million with Commercial Radio sitting pretty with a massive 1.6 million listeners ahead of the BBC. Commercial Radio’s reach is now at 35.58 million and the BBC at 33.97 million. The commercial sector is also eating away at the BBC’s lead in share of listening – Commercial Radio’s share is now at 46.5% – up from 45.7% in Q3 and the largest since 2001.

National Stations and Networks

The UK is loving the golden oldies, as stations with an older average listener age are flourishing with Smooth, Classic, Magic and LBC the main winners in Q4 of 2018.

The Smooth Network, with an average listener age of 51, has added nearly 100,000 listeners since last quarter and is up 6% in total hours to 5.1 million.

Classic FM, with an average listener age of 57, has seen its reach increase 2.4% to 5.3 million, alongside a 2.7% increase in total hours quarter on quarter.

Meanwhile, the Magic Network is casting a spell on a slightly younger audience – up by 4% in both reach and hours since last quarter. Magic is now reaching over 4.2 million listeners and is showing an upward trend – 8.3% higher than this time last year.

However, the conversation is all about the LBC Network, reporting year on year growth of 9.3% in reach from 2 million to 2.2 million and is also up 6% in reach and hours since last quarter.

The Heart Network continues to beat steady with a slight increase in reach and hours since the last survey. Another station that has held its own is talkSPORT – maintaining its reach and showing a small increase in hours.

Radio X is still marking the spot and riding the wave of a succession of good surveys and is up year on year, with a weekly reach of 1.65 million listeners up from 1.58 million in Q4 2017.

Digital Listening and Digital Only Stations

The love is strong for commercial radio delivered via digital platforms, increasing its share from 52.4% in Q3 to 52.6% in Q4. Digital listening to national commercial stations has increased by 13.9 million hours (or 10.3%) year on year and now accounts for 80% of all national commercial listening.

The most popular commercial digital only station is Kisstory, with a weekly reach of 1.8 million listeners.

The Absolute decade stations had a mixed bag of results with the highlight being Absolute 90’s -up 6% in reach on the quarter and 30% on the year.

Over at Wireless group, their talkSPORT 2 and talkRADIO stations are both up, 17% and 16% respectively, compared to last quarter.

Meanwhile at Virgin Radio (before the arrival of Chris Evans) reach was up by 8% on the quarter but down 8% on the year. We’ll be keeping an eye on Q1 2019’s results to see by how much the “Chris Evans factor” increases those figures.

Bauer Radio’s digital reach is now 13.3m, a 10% year on year increase. 65.5% of the group’s listening is via digital, compared with the all radio figure of 52.6%. The best performing Bauer digital stations (quarter on quarter) include Kiss Fresh (up 9%) and Mellow Magic (up 12%).

Global’s Smooth Extra now has an audience of 0.91 million down 22% on the quarter but up 16% on the year. Heart 80’s has seen the same trend, down 3% in reach on the quarter but up 13% on the year.

It’s fascinating to see the growth of in-car digital listening. The figures increased by 19% year on year and reached a new record share of 37.5% of all in car listening. 93% of new cars sold now come with DAB as standard, according to CAP/SMMT data for Q4 2018.


The big headline in London is that LBC 97.3 is still the largest station in terms of total listening hours even though it lost 19%.  Heart has leapfrogged Magic into second place courtesy of a 21% increase in hours versus Magic’s 12% decrease.

Bauer has “lost that lovin’ feeling” in the city. Kiss lost 16% of total hours and Absolute lost 24%. Get in touch with us and we’ll tell you what this means for advertisers.

Capital stayed reasonably steady with a 10% decrease in reach but, significant in terms of their airtime trading capabilities, is down 4% in total hours. Good results for Radio X in London (up 35% in total hours) and LBC London News climbed a whopping 47% in total hours.

The station with the biggest audience increase was Premier Christian Radio. Weekly reach climbed 46% to 227,000 but in total hours all their prayers were answered with an increase of 138%.

Elsewhere, Gold managed to add 10% to its total listening hours, whereas Smooth lost in reach but gained in hours. Meanwhile, Lyca has closed the gap on Sunrise slightly with increases in both reach and hours.
Weekly Reach – Top 5 London Stations (‘000)

Capital 1866
Kiss 1631
Magic 1606
Heart 1523
LBC 1147

Total Listening Hours – Top 5 London Stations (‘000)

LBC 11119
Heart 9399
Magic 8140
Capital 7553
Kiss 7425

Brands by region


The Heart Network is up in both weekly reach and total hours this quarter by 1%, maintaining its position as the highest reaching network. Heart London is getting its sharing of the love, upping its weekly audience by 7% and total listening hours by a significant 21%.

The popularity of the Heart brand is not only reserved for the capital city, as Heart Thames Valley has also seen a rise this quarter with the Berkshire & North Hants transmitter increasing by an impressive 53% in total hours and 29% in weekly reach.

Heading down to the coast, Heart Sussex and Heart Solent are getting attention with a rise in total hours of 38% and 13% respectively. It’s worth noting the upward trend in listening figures of the regional Heart stations is seen across the country, with Heart North West and Heart Yorkshire both increasing their weekly reach figures as well as the number of total listening hours.


The Capital Network is “going steady” this quarter and is still reaching over 7 million listeners each week. The stand-out performer from this quarter is Capital Brighton (previously known as Juice 107.2) which has increased its weekly reach by a staggering 39% as well as a rise in total hours of 10%.

Listeners are engaged in Birmingham and Liverpool as both Capital stations have increased their total hours with Capital Birmingham up by an impressive 22%.

Meanwhile, Capital East Midlands is also enjoying a successful quarter, particularly in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, as both have increased total hours by 15% and 18% respectively.


The Smooth network is getting lots of admiring glances for its performance in Q4 as it’s up in reach and total hours both quarter on quarter and year on year.

Most of the standout growth comes from the AM stations with 10 of the 12 Smooth AM stations increasing their reach or their hours this quarter. Amongst the FM stations, the best performance was from Smooth East Midlands which grew in reach (up 8.73%) and hours (up 5.8%).

This quarter, several Smooth AM stations have reported exceptional spikes in their listening figures – Smooth Thames Valley’s reach is up 70.83%, Smooth South Wales’ hours are up 72.35% and Smooth Essex has reported a 56.25% growth in reach and a 54.59% growth in hours.

Whilst Smooth London has lost 118,000 weekly listeners this quarter, its remaining audience is staying tuned in for much longer. Its average hours per listener have jumped from 5.4 to 7.3, resulting in an 18.42% growth in hours. Year on year this station’s reach is up 8.92% and its total hours have grown a staggering 44.25%.

XS & Radio X regional stations, Kiss, Gold

The love affair with rock and indie stations continues in Manchester. Despite some reduction in reach Radio X Manchester’s and XS Manchester’s average hours per listener have increased significantly so the total hours for both stations are up quarter on quarter.

Kiss West has seen a small drop in hours and reach, but overall audience figures for this station have remained steady over the last year; Kiss West has grown around 2% in each measure year on year.

Gold East Midlands has seen a 4.26% rise in reach. Despite a 26.32% decrease in total hours, its audience is still in a committed relationship – tuning in for an average of 10.7 hours per week. So, year on year its total hours are still up by 5.35%.

Gold Manchester has had some positive results compared to Q4 2017. Its reach is up 33.78% year on year and its hours are up an incredible 58.53%, despite a drop in reach and hours this quarter.

Hits Network

After love at first sight, the Hits Network is now feeling slightly ghosted with a drop of 276,000 (4%) in the last quarter. Here’s the story by region…


The pride of the Clyde, Clyde 1, is down 3% in reach and 18% in hours but still boasts over half a million listeners, Clyde 2 added 5,000 listeners and both stations have a strong 9% share. Similarly, Forth 1 lost some reach but remains at 315,000 listeners with a huge 16.5% share in Edinburgh.

A little further south, the two Tay stations lost a marginal number of hours but between them added 16,000 listeners. Up in Inverness, MFR remained flat in both reach and hours with 25.4% of the population tuning in each week. Likewise, Westsound posted flat numbers yet still commands a huge share in their Dumfries and Galloway market at 26%.


The programming team are working wonders at Cool FM, flat in reach but with 800,000 hours added – that’s a 25% increase and Cool now has a share of 14.1%. Downtown didn’t fare as well, dropping 22% of its hours, resulting in a drop in share down to 6.9%. Meanwhile Downtown’s sister station, Downtown Country, has added 264,000 hours in the last three months – a massive 41% increase.


In the North East, although Metro grew hours by 50,000, a drop of 29,000 listeners (9%) means that share has fallen 0.3%, but nothing to be alarmed about there. Just down the road and south of the Angel of the North, at TFM the results were a bit stronger with 6% increase in reach despite a small drop in hours of 3%.

Across the Pennines, the flagship Hits Radio has taken a hit itself. Reach has fallen 35% and hours by 66%, with the loss of a further 54,000 listeners. Hits Radio in Manchester now sits below 300,000 listeners at 271,000 but share grew from 3.9% to 4.1%.

Liverpool’s Radio City also lost 10% reach and 12% of its hours off the back of small declines last time around. City now has 311,000 listeners a week.

Shining brightly, Gem, has continued to consolidate its position from the last quarter with modest gains in reach and a share of 7.5% in a very competitive radio market.

This is the first survey that features the new Greatest Hits Network, formed out of a number of the previous regional sister stations (the 2’s) and a few “Free Radio” stations. Whilst the reach numbers were a bit up and down, the hours paint a very positive picture.

Over in the West Midlands, there was an amazing 35% increase in hours for Free Radio 80’s Birmingham and Black Country.

The Local Picture

Overall, local commercial radio is “a rock” to its listeners as figures remain static with a weekly reach of 26,235,000 listeners and 279,458,000 total hours.

The Q4 results have been released in a very interesting week as it was announced that Bauer Media have acquired Lincs FM Group and Celador Radio stations – adding a total of 36 local stations to their growing portfolio. Lincs FM Group has a total of 4.9 million hours and Celador stations total 5.2 million based on the latest listener survey.

Nation Radio also got in on the action by adding Sam FM South Coast, KCFM and The Breeze Solent to their offering this week. Sam FM in the South Coast boasts one of the highest percentage increases in hours up 110% quarter on quarter and smashing through the 1 million hours mark. KCFM increased its hours by 9%. The Breeze Solent increased reach by 17%, however dropped in hours by 23%.

It’s clear skies for Scottish Sun Greatest Hits – up a total of 278% in hours from 9,000 hours to 34,000; weekly reach is also up by 40%. Staying north of the border, Central FM covering Stirling has another good result, increasing its hours by 61% from 250,000 to 403,000 compared to Q3.

In the North West there’s a revolution – Revolution 96.2 in Oldham is up 73% in total hours, from 66,000 to 114,000 and gained 44% more listeners every week this quarter.

Fire Radio in Poole and Bournemouth is keeping the love burning with an increase of 37% in total hours and 16% in reach quarter on quarter.

Everything’s rosy in the Garden of England as KMFM Group in Kent is up 21% in total hours to 1.2 million compared to last quarter. Both KMFM East and KMFM West celebrate increases in hours – KMFM West was the top performer with 29% more hours and its reach up a further 14%.


Overall, it’s been a steady RAJAR for commercial radio and it’s clear that the UK’s love affair with radio continues. If you’ve any questions about how this RAJAR will affect your radio advertising, and you’d like to discuss how you can take advantage of the latest airtime and sponsorship opportunities, just get in touch.

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