Rajar Q3 2017: commercial radio up 2% but mixed fortunes for brands

Commercial radio put up a strong performance in Q3, up 2.3% year on year, albeit falling a marginal 0.9% compared with Q2, according to the latest Rajar figures.

All commercial radio stations combined attracted 35.56m listeners during the quarter, against 34.76m listeners in the same period last year.

Bauer Media's Kiss network was up 4.8% year on year and 5.4% on Q2, drawing an audience of 5.69m, marking its best-ever performance.

However, the group's Absolute Radio suffered a 6.9% fall compared with 2016, but grew 16.9% on the previous quarter. Its Magic network was up 1.7% year on year to 3.75m listeners.

Global's Heart network fell 5% year on year and 0.8% on Q2 to 8.64m listeners, while sister network Capital also fell by 3.7% year on year to 7.76m listeners.

But Global stablemate LBC, whose talent includes Nigel Farage, performed very strongly. It drew an audience of 2.08m, up a huge 15.7% year on year and 2.3% on the previous quarter.

The group's Classic FM drew an audience of 5.43m, up 2.9% year on year, and down 6% on Q2.

Meanwhile, Wireless Group's talkSPORT reached 2.93m listeners in the quarter, up 2.4% year on year and up 11.6% on Q2.

Sister station talkRADIO fared worse, suffering a fall of 15.8% compared to Q3 2016, and down 6.9% on the previous quarter, reaching 256,000 listeners.

However, Wireless's standout performance was from Virgin Radio. Listenership rocketed 61.2% year on year and 52.7% on Q2, reaching an audience of 556,000. Wireless Group attributed its success to the "It's all about the music" marketing campaign.

In terms of breakfast shows, Bauer still holds the number one and two slot, with Kiss's breakfast show with Rickie, Melvin and Charlie bringing in 2.01m listeners, and Christian O'Connell on Absolute drawing 1.94m listeners. 

Magic's breakfast show attracted 1.29m listeners, up from 1.26m the year before and 1.09m in the previous quarter.

Steve Parkinson, group managing director for national radio at Bauer, said that all commercial players should be pleased with the rude health of commercial radio.

"Radio continues to defy the critics," he said. "Over 49 million people are listening to the radio every week, it's up year on year, and digital radio is really underpinning that growth.

"The success comes from the talent, the technology and marketing, and the other thing is that digital is enabling more choice and new brands."

Mike Williamson, head of AV planning at Carat UK, commended both Global and Bauer, for investing in "building brands rather than radio stations", a strategy he said was "paying off".

He singled out Capital Xtra, which was up 10.6% year on year and 22.6% on Q2 to 1.47m listeners, and Kiss.

"I’d expect to see more events from one off gigs, to bigger festivals, from each of these brands in the next 18 months. This will allow advertisers to create deeper partnerships with the talent and brands that other media can’t offer."

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