A Question of Commercial Radio

I was talking to a colleague of mine the other day who asked: Are there any commercial radio stations that we cannot advertise on?

That seemingly random question led me down the path of contemplation…

My first thought was, I guess it depends what you mean by commercial?

If you mean commercial as in mass market, (i.e. commercial music), then yes, Radio 1 plays commercial music and could therefore be described as a commercial station, but you can’t advertise on it… Or can you? The last time I listened to Radio 1 there were loads of adverts. OK those adverts were for other BBC programmes, but they were still messages trying to get me to do something.

If you mean commercial in reference to advertising, then you’d expect that to be more of a straight forward question to answer. After all, a commercial station you can’t advertise on would almost be a contradiction. But that got me thinking about some examples, because there are some commercial radio stations – such as the soon to be launched Team Rock – which don’t carry standard spot advertising at all. Instead they provide the advertiser with opportunities to speak to their audience through sponsorships and promotions.

Different still is Amazing Radio. They’re a good example of a commercial station that takes things one step further, as they rarely carry any form of advertising at all. The station has been set up to champion emerging and independent artists; although there are no ads as such, the songs that are played are themselves like commercials, and listeners are encouraged to go to sister company Amazing Tunes to purchase the tracks they like.

Perhaps the purest example of a commercial radio station that doesn’t carry advertising is The Arrow, a DAB radio station owned by Global Radio. I for one love the constant, uninterrupted, stream of classic rock. (Don’t tell everyone about it though because if the listener numbers start to go up, I’m sure they’ll start trying to make money out of it!) 

A final example is UCB, a Christian radio station set up as a charity which rarely takes money for the commercials they play – and they usually only play charity ads. Any messages are normally designated as ‘consumer interest’ rather than commercials.

That more or less covers off the different types of commercial radio stations that don’t carry any advertising, though I’d just like to finish with a thought about the non-commercial BBC radio stations: Although these stations don’t carry any paid for messages, you don’t need to listen too long before you hear a minor celebrity talking about the latest research from client X. This is considered as Broadcast PR and is one potential way of getting commercial messaging on to a non-commercial station. (You can speak to us about this sort of thing too!).

So, to answer the original question – are there any commercial stations we cannot advertise on? Yes there are, but there’s plenty that you can advertise on as well!

(Suffice to say – I don’t think that particular work colleague will be asking me a quick question again for a while!).


Simon Pearce is the Client Insight Director at audio and radio advertising specialist RadioWorks

RAJAR Q1 13 – Full Report

Hi all

Here’s my full RAJAR summary report, originally prepared for RadioWorks as an independent and unbiased analysis of this quarter’s radio listening figures.

In a quarter which saw Radio 1 and Nick Grimshaw lose listeners, commercial radio had a great set of results, increasing weekly reach quarter on quarter and year on year.

RAJAR, the radio audience survey, shows that over 90% of people in the UK listen to the radio every week. Commercial radio reaches 33.5 million listeners and achieves a listener share of 41.9% versus the BBC’s 55.7%. On a local level, commercial radio completely dominates the BBC, delivering 26.5 million listeners compared to the BBC’s 9.5 million for local and regional services. Digital listening now equates to a 34.3% share of all listening hours.

LONDON LISTENING: In the London marketplace the big news is that Capital London has become the largest reaching commercial radio station with 1.95 million weekly listeners.  Although they’ve seen a drop in reach to 1.86 million, Magic 105.4 has retained its number one position in terms of share of listening with 5.6% thanks to strong listening hours compared to their London rivals. Heart London has delivered improved reach on last quarter to reach 1.75 million weekly listeners meaning they’re ahead of Kiss 100, who slipped down to fourth position after delivering 1.6 million listeners – almost 200,000 less than the previous quarter. LBC 97.3 saw an increase in their figures to deliver 931,000 weekly listeners and there were also positive results across other London stations including Sunrise Radio, up a massive 53% to reach 348,000, Gold London (363,000) and XFM (574,000). Note: It is possible to measure Classic FM by its London only transmitter, which delivers 1,362,000.

LONDON BREAKFAST: The much talked about ‘battle of the breakfast shows’ has again been won by Capital London, with 1,067,000 listeners tuning in to their show from 6-10am. Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon will no doubt be very happy that they continue as ‘King and Queen’ of the breakfast airwaves, even beating Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw, whose figures were down considerably. The news that Global Radio will be celebrating most is likely to be the strong performance of Heart London’s breakfast show (6-9am) which saw a jump of 125,000 listeners to 768,000 since Emma Bunton joined Jamie Theakston. Rickie, Melvin & Charlie on Kiss 100 (6-9am) saw their audience significantly drop off this quarter to deliver 651,000, meaning they were beaten into third place by Neil Fox on Magic 105.4 (5-9am) who reaches 765,000 listeners every week. Meanwhile, the multi-Sony Award winning Christian O’Connell has again shown audience growth on his breakfast show across the Absolute Radio Network, and in London, the show delivered a reach of 636,000 listeners.

NORTH WEST REGION: In the North West the largest reaching station by far is Smooth Radio, delivering 783,000 listeners. When looking at the reach percentage figures, it is the Isle of Man’s Manx Radio (53%), Carlisle’s C.F.M (37%) and The Bay in Morecombe which all stand out as performing well, whilst the best quarter on quarter improvement in the region is seen at Cheshire’s Silk 106.9, who posted a 16.7% increase to reach 21,000 weekly listeners. 

NATIONAL STATIONS: Classic FM remains the most-listened-to (single) commercial radio station in the UK. The station has gone above the 5.5 million listener mark for the first time since Q2 2011 and delivers average hours of 7.1, the highest since 2010. Keeping a focus on the national analogue stations: talkSPORT held on to second place, reaching 2.9 million weekly listeners. While Absolute Radio (National + London) delivered 1,687,000. Note: Kiss UK, who broadcast across the UK via online, digital TV, DAB,  plus three regional FM licenses, have achieved 4.1 million listeners; Smooth Radio, who also broadcast nationally on DAB and have several regional licences, (with local content in Scotland), have delivered figures of 3.1 million weekly adult listeners.

NETWORK STATIONS: The network radio stations, which have become a feature of the UK radio industry over the past couple of years, have again delivered some big numbers this quarter. The largest commercial radio network in the country is Global’s Heart Network, which delivers 7.2 million listeners, closely followed by the Capital Network on 6.9 million listeners. Kiss UK has delivered 4.1 million, Magic UK 3.4 million, Smooth Radio UK 3.1 million, and Real Radio UK 2.1 million.

Note: As the UK radio marketplace changes there is some convergence between national and network stations. Whilst the lines are becoming blurred, RadioWorks define network stations as those which have locally produced content, whilst national stations have the same output right across the country and are also available on a mainstream national transmitter (Analogue Radio or Digital Radio).

DIGITAL RADIO (including mobile): Digital radio listening has benefited from a 14% year on year increase and now accounts for a 34.3% share of all radio listening, with 49.6% of people listening to digital radio either through DAB, DTV, the internet or ‘other’. The latest RAJAR figures recorded that 23 million adults (44%) claim to live in a household which has a DAB receiver. The number one commercial, digital only radio station in the UK is now Absolute 80s, with almost one million listeners (984,000). Smash Hits have been pushed in to second place with a weekly reach of 942,000, sitting above Bauer’s recent acquisition, Planet Rock, which added listeners to deliver 896,000. Bauer radio has also taken the fourth spot in terms of digital commercial radio as The Hits reached 877,000 listeners. Smooth 70s increased their listening hours this quarter to deliver an average of 7.4 hours per listener, however, their reach figures dropped off to 681,000, whilst Jazz FM maintained their strong figures from last quarter to deliver 604,000 weekly listeners.

GROUP PERFORMANCE: The UK’s largest commercial radio group is Global Radio (delivering a total of 19.33 million listeners), thanks in part to the strength of its three core brands: Classic FM, Heart and Capital. Bauer Radio recently added to their Passion Portfolio with the purchase of Planet Rock, which helped them record strong performance figures and as a group (including the Place Portfolio) they recorded a total reach of 13.7 million adults. There appears to be continuing uncertainty at Real and Smooth Ltd. (formerly GMG Radio) since their purchase by Global Radio and that has been reflected in the figures, with the group reach down to 5.57 million from 5.85 million weekly reach; whilst UTV Radio, owners of talkSPORT, reaches 4.2 million listeners.  Absolute Radio and its network of decade-based stations have maintained their strong overall figures from last quarter, delivering 3.3 million weekly adult listeners. It is also worth noting that when Global’s acquisition of Real and Smooth Ltd is finalised, the group could be posting figures in the region of 25 million listeners.


Simon Pearce is the Client Insight Director at audio and radio advertising specialist RadioWorks