Q1 RAJAR results: Chris Evans, Zoe Ball and the battle for breakfast

Q1 RAJAR results: Chris Evans, Zoe Ball and the battle for breakfast

The first listening figures for 2019 were always going to be hotly-anticipated, with debut RAJAR appearances from Chris Evans at Virgin, Zoe Ball at Radio 2 and Lauren Laverne at 6 Music. Here’s Music Week’s take on the latest radio revelations for the RAJAR period ending March 31…

The Big Breakfasts

This RAJAR quarter was set up as the big battle between two new shows at Breakfast - Chris Evans at Virgin Radio and Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. In the event, it was effectively a score draw with Ball maintaining the audience (9.047m, down just 18,000 on Evans’ Q4 performance at Radio 2). “It was such a gift to be asked to follow Chris and Sir Terry as host of the Radio 2 Breakfast Show but also a great responsibility,” said Ball. “My ace production team and I are supersized giddy to learn that over 9 million people are tuning in each week. Thanks to the listeners for giving us a chance and for getting so involved in the show’s antics. We can’t wait to embark on more adventures together.”

It would have been a big ask for Evans to have beaten Ball on a digital-only network, but he did pull in an impressive 1.048m listeners in his first quarter. RAJAR didn’t report the network’s previous Breakfast result, but Evans has clearly made a big impression with a show not dissimilar to his time on Radio 2. Evans said: “Last year, I said I wanted a new mountain to climb,” said Evans. “And the view from the top of the News Tower isn’t half bad. But really this is just base camp. I’m back in my spiritual home and loving every minute of it.”

Dave Berry still has the No.1 commercial breakfast show, with 2.2m listeners on Absolute – up 6.2% year-on-year. Meanwhile, over on BBC Radio 1 – winners of the Radio Station prize at the Music Week AwardsGreg James has added 250,000 listeners to the Breakfast Show compared to a year ago. On Monday to Thursday, James now has 5.044m listeners, down from 5.111m in the prior quarter.

BBC record breakers

Some BBC presenters stepped up this quarter with record results. It was a dream start for Lauren Laverne at BBC 6 Music’s Breakfast Show. Fresh from winning her Music Week Award for Radio Show, Laverne debuted with 1.28m listeners – up 197,000 on the prior quarter under Shaun Keaveny and 161,000 on a year ago. Laverne said: “I’m absolutely delighted about the incredible response to our show, from listeners old and new. It’s been a pleasure to start the day with such interesting, funny, lovely people and to share the music we all love so much. I’m incredibly lucky to have a production team that is second to none and we are all having a ball helping our listeners start the day on the right note.”

Meanwhile, Radio 2’s Steve Wright scored his highest ever result after 23 years. There were also records for the 1Xtra Breakfast Show with Dotty (441,000) and the Radcliffe and Maconie weekend Breakfast Show on 6 Music (761,000), as well as Graham Norton on Radio 2, Michael Ball on Radio 2 and 6 Music mainstays Marc Riley, Liz Kershaw, Craig Charles, Huey Morgan, Cerys Matthews, Tom Robinson and Guy Garvey.

Overall, it was a solid quarter for BBC stations with Radio 1 at 9.303m (down 1.7% year-on-year), Radio 2 at 15.356m (down 0.4% year-on-year), 1Xtra at 1.05m (up 3.2% year-on-year) and BBC 6 Music at 2.515m (down 0.6% year-on-year). In terms of listening hours in an increasingly competitive market, Radio 2’s share was down from 18.1% in Q4 to 17.4%, Radio 1 was stable and 6 Music up from 2.1% three months ago to 2.4%.

Virgin territory

It was a big quarter for Virgin Radio, who made clear their ambitions for the network with the poaching of Chris Evans from BBC Radio 2. He won’t have come up cheap but the commercial station will be happy with the results. Virgin has now joined the million club with 1.301m weekly listeners. The station has changed its survey period so there’s no direct comparison, but its Q4 result was 447,000 so Evans appears to have added around 850,000 listeners. Just as impressive is the listening hours, a 0.8% share in Q1 after Evans joined compared to a 0.2% share in Q4. Last quarter the station’s listeners tuned in for 3.8 hours on average, now it’s six hours. It’s a good start for Virgin’s ambition to become the biggest digital-only commercial station.

Wireless CEO Scott Taunton said: “This is an exceptional set of results for the new Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky. The breakfast slot has grown its audience to over one million listeners - seven times what it was in the last quarter - while Virgin Radio UK has trebled its overall audience year-on-year thanks to Chris and our friends at Sky. This is the first milestone in our ambition to become the UK’s leading commercial digital station and we are all delighted.”

Digital disruption

Digital listening reached a new record share of 56.4%, up from 50.9% a year ago. That’s the biggest annual growth in digital listening platform share since records began. Bauer Media is leading the way with digital reach at a record high of 13.7m, up 14.3% year-on-year. Bauer Media’s listening via digital devices is now at 70.5% of the total, up 9.8%. That compares to 53.9% for the BBC, which was also a record result. 

Across the Bauer portfolio, Absolute Radio was flat at 2.424m, Magic Network was up 9.1% year-on-year at 4.108m and Kiss Network was down 5.6% at 5.215m. The Kiss brand extensions didn’t make any year-on-year advance, though Kisstory remains the biggest digital-only commercial station with 1.845m listeners (down 0.3% year-on-year).

Dee Ford, group managing director radio, Bauer Media, said, “This is a great set of results for commercial radio, digital product innovation is underpinning commercial radio’s highest ever reach. The significant step up in Bauer’s lead in digital listening reflects our continued commitment to bringing listeners fresh, new, unique radio services complementing our powerful big brand portfolio – listeners love them, and so do our advertisers. Our latest 2019 launches, Scala Radio and Country Hits Radio, will record their first set of figures next quarter.”

Global picture 

Global is still the biggest commercial radio group with 25.2m weekly listeners. With the exception of Classic FM – down 5.2% year-on-year to 5.288m and now with rival Scala (too new for this edition of the RAJARs) snapping at their heels – Q1 was good for Global. The company likes to point out that its Heart brand is bigger than Radio 1, though the Heart network is not quite there (8.524m, up 1.1% year-on-year). Heart 80s had a record 1.4m weekly listeners, up 1.6% year-on-year. Another star brand extension, Capital Xtra, was up 6.6% at 1.760m.

Capital Network dipped 2.7% to 7.201m, while Smooth Network made a similar move in the other direction (up 2.6% to 5.07m). Radio X had a rare quarter of decline, down 2.7% year-on-year and down 6.7% on Q4 at 1.538m. But Chris Moyles still delivers for Radio X at Breakfast, adding almost 60,000 listeners on Q1 last year to reach 928,000. Imagine what he could do with some of Virgin Radio’s marketing spend…

Ashley Tabor, founder & executive president of Global, said: “I’m immensely proud to see a really strong card for Global again as we now achieve the top four commercial radio brands across the UK with Heart, Capital, Smooth and Classic FM. It’s fantastic to see Capital Breakfast with Roman Kemp retain its position as No 1 commercial breakfast show in London for reach, whilst LBC leads the pack for hours and share with its unmissable coverage of an ever-changing news agenda. With our recent launch of Capital Breakfast nationwide and preparation for the roll-out of Heart Breakfast on June 3 across the UK, it’s hugely encouraging to see strong performances to support pivotal moments in Global’s history.”

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