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The most popular radio stations in the UK

What are the most listened-to radio stations in Great Britain, according to the RAJAR audience figures? We take a look at Britain's best radio.

By James Cridland
Posted 26 October 2016, 8.04pm edt
James Cridland
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media.info publishes all the RAJAR audience figures for every radio station - here are Radio 2's audience figures for example. You'll find audience figures published here, linked-to from most radio station pages: and linked from some radio station owners too.

The figures below, however, also include radio station brands: we're treating "Heart" or "Kiss" as one station here, rather than each individual local radio service. This gives a clearer view of the popularity of station brands. These figures are based on RAJAR audience research ending September 2016.

The quick answer? The biggest radio station in the UK is BBC Radio 2. But it's a little more complicated than that.

The top 10 radio stations with the most listeners

Normally, when people ask for the most popular radio station, they mean the one with the most amount of listeners. This will always give national or London stations as a result, and ignore smaller, local radio stations - even though, in many areas, the most popular station is a local one.

  1. BBC Radio 2 (15.1m listeners every week)
  2. BBC Radio 4 (11.2m)
  3. BBC Radio 1 (9.9m)
  4. Heart (9.6m)*
  5. Capital FM (8.7m)
  6. BBC Radio 5 live (5.5m)
  7. Smooth (5.4m)*
  8. Classic FM (5.3m)
  9. KISS (4.3m)
  10. Magic (3.4m)

Notes:

  • Heart and Smooth both include their national Extra services, which mainly simulcast
  • The Bauer City Network, a group of local radio stations from Bauer which shares some programming and branding elements, reaches 7.0m listeners, which would place it at #6 on this chart.

The top 10 radio owners with the most listeners

It's also important to look at radio owners, since they have the market in commercial terms. Click through to discover the stations they own.

  1. BBC national radio (32.1m listeners every week)
  2. Global Radio (23m)
  3. Bauer Media (17.9m)
  4. BBC local/regional radio (8.4m)
  5. Wireless Group (4.6m)
  6. Communicorp UK (3.3m)
  7. BBC World Service (1.5m)
  8. UKRD (0.9m)
  9. Celador Radio (0.6m)
  10. Lincs FM Group (0.6m)

The top 10 radio stations with the highest amount of listeners in their area

If you want to look at popularity based on how many people listen in their area (and thus, take on board local radio stations as well as national), then the 'reach percent' is the best figure to examine. This shows you people who've listened for at least five minutes a week, and takes no account of whether they listen any longer than that. Typically, this shows local radio stations in remote areas.

  1. Island FM (66% of people in their area tune in every week)
  2. Channel 103 FM (65%)
  3. Radio Borders (50%)
  4. Moray Firth Radio (49%)
  5. Manx Radio (48%)
  6. West Sound (48%)
  7. Yorkshire Coast Radio (45%)
  8. Spire FM (44%)
  9. Wessex FM (44%)
  10. CFM (43%)

The top 10 radio stations with the highest listening share in their area

The share of listening in a station's broadcast area is normally the best way of monitoring how popular a radio station is. This makes it easier to work out how popular the station's entire broadcasting output is, in comparison to others in its area.

  1. Island FM (49.2% of all radio listening in their area is to this station)
  2. Channel 103 (36.9%)
  3. Radio Borders (34.3%)
  4. Moray Firth Radio (24.7%)
  5. Manx Radio (24.6%)
  6. West Sound (22.4%)
  7. BBC Radio Ulster (21.3%)
  8. Yorkshire Coast Radio (21.3%
  9. NORTHSOUND 1 (20.7%)
  10. Tay FM (20.2%)

Actually, the biggest radio station in the UK is really...

If you purely count radio stations by the total amount of listeners they have — irrespective of whether they choose to listen — then the in-store station for ASDA supermarkets, ASDA FM, is the most listened-to radio station in the UK. It reaches 18,000,000 shoppers, and a further 167,500 staff, each week.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

1 year, 6 months ago

"Typically, this shows local radio stations in remote parts of the UK." In fact the top three are outside of the UK!!!

1 year, 6 months ago

Not at all. Describing stations in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man as being "in the UK" is quite simply wrong. And it's relevant, because these are not "remote" parts of the UK. (Remote from what or whom? London is a pretty remote place from many places on mainland Great Britain!) What they in fact are, are radio stations in self-governing places where UK media is less relevant. Hence their success.

PRO1 year, 6 months ago

I've rewritten the intro for that section, removing the use of 'UK'. I've retained 'remote', since its definition is 'situated far from the main centres of population', which is the point of these numbers: these stations do well because they're unserved by the large broadcasters.

That said, this article isn't a legal definition of 'UK'; and the stations themselves are rather pleased at being featured on it.

1 year, 6 months ago

There's nothing remote about the area that Yorkshire Coast Radio serves. More than 50 stations can be received, so plenty of choice!

1 year, 6 months ago

Nobody's got anything to say on this forum and we're arguing about this?

What happened?!

PRO1 year, 6 months ago

There's nothing remote about the area that Yorkshire Coast Radio serves

There bloody is, Chris! Many years stuck on the A64 teaches me that... ;)

Congratulations on the figures, though.

1 year, 6 months ago

I now live on the Yorkshire coast and my local radio station is Yorkshire Coast Radio. The station appears to be on in shops & garages wherever I go so what they are doing is appealing to the local audience. Here in Brid they have another 50 stations to compete against but they are the only local station that reports events and news happening in the area as other local stations are broadcasting from Hull (Viking) or Leeds (Capital Yorkshire).

1 year, 2 months ago

Thank you for pulling all this data together.

I would be interested to know the relationship between the radio stations and the way the listeners access the station

For example, do most R2 listeners listen via FM/DAB whilst Kiss listen via IP. Also, do the listeners of local stations tend to listen via a certain medium regardless of location.

is this data readily avilable?

Kwad.

PRO1 year, 2 months ago

Kwad - thanks. Platform data is available but isn't public, so I can't use it here.

Young stations like Kiss, CapitalXtra and others do well on IP and on TV (probably because younger people are unlikely to have a radio receiver in their bedroom, but will have a TV).

However, internet still is a small percentage of total listening, and - having seen the figures - I am unaware of a single radio station where internet is the majority of time spent listening.

1 year, 2 months ago

Nice argueing. (image) By that far, even the article's title is wrong then. (image)
Should we call it this country then, or will there be other objections? (image)

1 year, 1 month ago

The opening statement is incorrect "media.info publishes all the RAJAR audience figures for every radio station" - community radio in the UK ISN'T inclulded in the RAJAR research, so therefor ALL stations aren't included. It reports on Commercial and BBC Radio only.

PRO1 year, 1 month ago

Hi David - in fact, that sentence is correct. We publish all the RAJAR audience figures for every radio station. If a station isn't in RAJAR, we can't publish their RAJAR audience figures, because they don't have any. But if they are in RAJAR, we publish them.

Contrary to popular belief, community radio is measured by RAJAR, but under the line "other radio" in the research. RAJAR reports on any station that pays the fees to be included. There's nothing stopping community radio doing so if they can afford it.

Using that "Other Radio" figure, I've attempted to calculate community radio's listening figures in an article here.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

The RAJAR figures are like GFK ratings in Australia, Community Radio is measured but not put out publicly unless they pay for it. Community Radio cannot afford the cost of surveys on top of the other costs in most areas. Maybe the Government should pay or the Commercial and BBC /ABC should publish the ratings of Community radio to give a true picture to the public, or do they just not want to acknowledge that some Community radio has an appreciable appreciative audience that prefers them to the commercial and public broadcasters.

PRO5 months, 3 weeks ago

Community Radio is measured but not put out publicly unless they pay for it

This isn't true: RAJAR has a box for 'other radio', where respondents are instructed to place all radio without a specific sticker. There are no hidden figures for community radio. I looked, separately, at the likely audience for community radio in the UK, and concluded it's around half a million.

In Australia, where community radio is very different, the CBAA produces some nice research showing the extent of community radio's audience.

5 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks James for that information about RAJAR. I am aware of the CBAA surveys and how they reflect how much Community Radio is enjoyed. In Australia there is not even an other category publicly available so a true picture is never seen in the GFK ratings , at least by the Public.

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