BBC Radio 4's Today increases audience in spite of boycott threats

Listener complaints about political coverage not enough to deter 7.2m tuning in each week

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has increased its audience despite threats of a boycott from listeners who claim to be exasperated by the broadcaster’s political coverage.

The morning show continues to divide opinion about its interviewing style after the departure of the long-serving presenter John Humphrys, but its audience rose to 7.2 million listeners a week in the final three months of 2019, aided by interest in the general election campaign.

Since then Today’s editor Sarah Sands has resigned after the announcement of cuts to the BBC’s news output, while ministers are maintaining an increasingly uneasy boycott of the programme on the basis that No 10 believes it does not speak to the voters the government needs to win over.

The official quarterly radio listening figures from Rajar also show that Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 breakfast show has lost about a million weekly listeners since she took over the slot from Chris Evans – whose rival Virgin Radio show has attracted about a similar number to the digital-only station.

Radio 1’s audience has hit a record low, as the station fights to attract younger listeners who are being lured away by other forms of listening. The station still reached 8.8 million listeners a week in the final three months of 2019, but is increasingly having to use different ways to reach its future audience. Research from the regulator Ofcom this week showed that radio use among five- to 15-year-olds has fallen from 26% to 22% in the space of a year.

The BBC’s head of radio, James Purnell, said: “The latest figures show some of the challenges we face across the radio industry with retaining a live listening habit amongst young people, whose audio consumption is rapidly changing. We are focused on keeping live listening strong and looking for new ways to do so, but we also want to ensure we offer more for our audiences however they want to listen.”

Despite the enormous growth of interest in podcasts, with the BBC increasingly channelling funds into the format, the audience for downloads is still dwarfed by the number of people who tune in to national radio stations in their millions.

Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa are increasingly shaping listening habits, with many people replacing their kitchen radio set with such devices. This can change which stations people listen to, as users have to verbally prompt for their preferred station every time they turn the speaker on – rather than just leaving a radio set tuned to the same station.

The BBC’s national stations continue to dominate headline listening figures but commercial beneficiaries of changing habits include talk radio station LBC, which now reaches 2.7 million listeners a week and Absolute Radio, which has grown the audience its network of stations playing different music from every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s.

Contributor

Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Radio 2 breakfast show audience falls to lowest level in a decade
Zoe Ball programme sheds a million listeners as Rajar data shows podcasts are on the rise

Jim Waterson Media editor

23, Oct, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Terry Wogan voted greatest BBC radio presenter
John Peel and Sue MacGregor second and third in Radio Times poll of leading figures in broadcasting

Graham Ruddick Media editor

25, Sep, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Today programme guest editors revealed in BBC radio Christmas feast
Miriam González-Durántez and Michael Sheen to edit festive editions of Today programme

Tara Conlan

25, Nov, 2015 @8:00 PM

Article image
Big news boosts audiences for Radio 4's Today programme and John Humphrys
Latest Rajar figures reveal BBC's influential news show has almost as many listeners as Chris Moyles on Radio 1

John Plunkett

02, Feb, 2012 @12:00 AM

Article image
BBC stars criticise radio commissioning plan as 'threat to excellence'
Proposed increase in competitive tendering for content will squeeze programme budgets, warn Andrew Marr, Jarvis Cocker and Joan Bakewell

Alice Ross

06, Nov, 2016 @6:24 PM

Article image
Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood nominated for two Sony radio awards

Frank Skinner and Victoria Derbyshire also land multiple nominations, while R4, R2, 5 Live and Absolute lead station list. By Jason Deans

Jason Deans

30, Mar, 2011 @6:42 PM

Article image
BBC's Today programme sheds 800,000 listeners
Decline in numbers comes amid criticism of the flagship Radio 4 show

Jim Waterson Media editor

01, Aug, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Chris Evans's Radio 2 audience slumps in run-up to his move to Virgin
Ratings for breakfast show of under 9 million a week will ease pressure on new host Zoë Ball

Jim Waterson Media editor

24, Oct, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Sony radio awards: Ronnie Wood and Frank Skinner lead lads' charge
Rolling Stones guitarist and comedian scoop gongs for Absolute shows, as TalkSport and Radio 5 Live also score success. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

09, May, 2011 @9:45 PM

Article image
BBC appoints Amol Rajan as Radio 4 Today programme presenter
Media editor will continue in his current role while joining flagship morning news show

Archie Bland

11, Mar, 2021 @10:48 AM