Radio has remained very popular in the UK and audience numbers have not declined in the same way as other platforms. The reach of radio has remained stable in the last five years with 89.6 percent of adults over 15 listening to the radio at least once a week. Among radio listeners the average minutes spent listening is over 3 hours per day at 183 minutes, and the average time spent by listeners per week has risen slightly to 21 hours and 24 minutes. Music focussed stations are the most popular at 63 percent with 38 percent listening to speech based stations. Podcasts are rising in popularity at 16 percent. Age shapes consumption with RAJAR data showing that of the 34 percent of adults who listen to speech radio each week about two thirds are aged over 44.
Although live broadcast radio continues to have a high penetration, listeners are beginning to access speech and music content on a range of Internet connected devices including computers, mobiles and tablets. The lines between radio and other audio mediums and content providers are becoming blurred with many non-radio media providers providing audio material through podcasts. This includes newspapers and magazines as well as independent podcast creators. The BBC has created the radio iplayer as a specific gateway to access radio live or to on a ‘listen again’ basis and has a vast back catalogue of broadcasts.
The radio sector is almost equally divided between the public service broadcasting BBC stations (national and local) which account for 52.5 percent of listening and commercial radio which accounts for 44.9 percent. The vast majority of commercial stations are local and account for 27.1 percent of listening compared to national commercial stations’ share of 17.1 percent. The remaining listening goes to community radio stations. Stations broadcast on analogue (AM/FM), digital audio broadcasting (DAB) and via TV platforms. Although the introduction of digital radio has greatly expanded the number of stations available, analogue retains the largest number of overall stations. In terms of analogue licences there are 286 local commercial stations, 43 BBC local stations, 3 UK-wide commercial stations, 5 UK-wide BBC stations, and 251 community radio stations. Digital continues to expand with a total of 435 stations divided between 11 BBC UK-wide digital stations, 31 UK-wide commercial digital stations, and 394 local commercial digital stations. Digital radio has proved popular with 57 percent of radio listening households having a DAB radio and 46 percent of listener hours being through a digital platform.
With an overall weekly reach of 59 percent, the most popular BBC nationwide stations are BBC Radio 2 (28 percent), the speech only station BBC Radio 4 (21 percent), and the music station aimed at younger audiences Radio 1 (18 percent). BBC regional services are also popular in the nations of the UK: BBC Ulster (36 percent), BBC Scotland (18 percent), and BBC Wales (13 percent). Four stations dominate the national commercial market: Heart (17 percent), Capital (15 percent), Smooth (10 percent), Kiss (10 percent).
Provision for community radio was included in the 2003 Communications Act which created a ‘third tier’ of broadcasters by secondary legislation and established a Community Radio Fund. According to Ofcom, community radio stations typically cover a small geographical area with a coverage radius of up to 5km, and are run on a not-for-profit basis. They vary in whether they cater for whole communities or for specific areas of interest such as a particular ethnic group, age group or interest group. Community stations are currently only licenced to broadcast on FM/AM and the government is currently consulting on opening up the Digital Audio Broadcast network to community radio.
The sector is healthy with commercial radio revenues rising by 1 percent to £526m, BBC expenditure of £707m, community radio expenditure of £0.6m in 2017 and radio maintaining its share of total advertising expenditure at 3.0 percent in 2016. There is a relatively high degree of concentration in the commercial local radio market. Two companies, Global Radio and Bauer Radio, account for just under 40 percent of licences, while five groups (Global and Bauer, Celador, UKRD Group and UTV Radio) together account for 168 stations – 58 percent of the total. With 70 and 42 licences respectively Global and Bauer together account for almost 35 percent of the radio market in terms of listening hours.