BBC Radio 2 head of music Jeff Smith has told Music Week that the network is not a “nostalgia station”.
Radio 2’s most popular presenter, Ken Bruce, has just left after more than three decades. He will be starting at commercial rival Greatest Hits Radio on Monday, April 3.
It follows the departure of Radio 2 presenters including Simon Mayo, Paul O’Grady and Vanessa Feltz, while Steve Wright left his weekday show last year after more than two decades. New faces include Radio 1’s Scott Mills and TV presenter Vernon Kay, who will present the morning show from May.
The changes have prompted newspaper headlines suggesting that older listeners are increasingly switching off the BBC station in favour of rivals such as Boom or Bauer Media Audio’s Greatest Hits Radio. As well as Ken Bruce, the latter features ex-Radio 2 presenter Simon Mayo at drivetime.
According to the latest RAJAR results, Radio 2 has lost almost 600,000 listeners in 12 months, although it remains the UK’s most popular station with 14.23 million tuning in.
While Greatest Hits Radio is a feelgood station featuring hits from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Radio 2’s remit is much more broad. It is required to appeal to a multi-generational audience over 35, which has not changed in recent decades.
Four years ago, BBC Radio 2 head of music Jeff Smith spoke about the refreshed music policy - billed as “Radio 2 reimagined”. Alongside playing timeless and melodic pop, the station brought in the new pop establishment, including Dua Lipa, Jess Glynne, Calvin Harris and Clean Bandit. Stormzy has since appeared on the playlist as the station introduces new stars to its listeners.
The network’s Piano Room Month featured performers including Raye, Stormzy, Jessie Ware, Ellie Goulding, Freya Ridings and Sugababes, alongside more familiar Radio 2 staples such as Richard Marx, Belinda Carlisle and Michael Ball. Piano Room has since added performers including U2, Cat Burns and Depeche Mode.
Radio 2 is definitely not a nostalgia station, and actually never has been
Smith told Music Week that the station is committed to the music policy established in 2019.
“It's a real strength of Radio 2 to be able to cover a broad range of genres and a broad range of eras,” said Smith. “We really take pride in that. Piano Room Month reflects that broad range of genres but doesn't signpost any particularly massive change in signal.”
As part of the evolution of the station four years ago, Radio 2 put less focus on music from the ’60s and ’70s, and allowed more air time for tracks from the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, as well as contemporary songs.
The current new music playlist at Radio 2 includes Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware, Niall Horan, Zara Larsson, Jax Jones x Calum Scott and Mimi Webb.
“Music and radio stations always evolve and stations extend [their music coverage], we do that all the time,” said Smith. “Not just at this station, but other BBC stations. I think it's easy to fall into a trap in radio sometimes to just become a certain ‘feel’, like a nostalgia station. I would say that happens in other places, but Radio 2 is definitely not a nostalgia station, and actually never has been.
“It has always been about the best music from the past, and the best music from today. And within the context of what we did with that month [Piano Room Month], I think we covered that. So it does reflect Radio 2 today, it's about that whole range of music.”
As well as the traditional on-air Radio 2 platform, Smith said the station is focusing more on reaching audiences via social media in partnership with artists. The network increased its social activity around Piano Room Month for this year’s edition.
“We worked really closely with all the artists and labels to deliver content [on social media],” he told Music Week. “So the general plan is to get into wider areas, because we know that Instagram and Facebook audiences - those who are over 35 - will be interested in these artists and they will want to find it in their socials as well. As a massive digital media organisation, we want to make sure that we really are connected to all those social [platforms] as well.”
Radio 2 is nominated at the Music Week Awards 2023 in the Radio Station category, which it won in 2021 just over a year on from the appointment of head of station Helen Thomas.
The station is also represented in the Radio Show category by Jo Whiley and Romesh Ranganathan (For The Love Of Hip-Hop).