Thursday 16 May 2019 12:11 am

Commercial radio pulls in record audience as stations snap up top presenters

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Commercial radio stations across the UK reported their highest-ever listener numbers in the first quarter, as they continue to snap up top talent.

At least 36.1m people tuned in to commercial radio stations in the first three months of the year, according to new figures from industry body Rajar.

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The figures also showed there are now 1.7m more people listening to commercial radio stations than the BBC’s radio networks combined, the biggest ever disparity between commercial and public service broadcasters.

It comes as commercial stations fork out hefty sums to lure top talent away from the corporation.

Chris Evans and Simon Mayo are among the popular presenters to have made the jump to stations run by big-name media companies such as Bauer, Global and Wireless Group.

The BBC has also struggled with technical problems on its much-maligned Sounds app and faced criticism for neglecting its traditional audience in a bid to appeal to younger listeners. Last year flagship BBC channel Radio 4 lost 740,000 listeners, according to official Rajar figures.

“We are constantly reminded of the challenges that radio faces in a digital age, whether it is from new forms of listening or shifts in advertising,” said Siobhan Kenny, chief executive of Rajar parent company Radiocentre.

“But it’s clear from these figures that the investment from stations in talent, brands and great content is helping radio to continue to resonate with audiences in a big way”.

UK commercial radio has enjoyed growth in advertising revenue over the last three years, with ad sales hitting a record £713.3m in 2018, Rajar said.

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“Traditional radio isn't going anywhere, despite widespread industry shake-ups including the merging of many local stations,” said Peter Mitchell, strategic broadcast expert at consultancy firm Markettiers.

“These latest results prove that radio still has a place in the nation's heart, with 1m more people tuning in at least once a week compared to the end of last year.”