Greatest Hits Radio overtakes BBC Radio 1 in listening figures as Ken Bruce leads charge

Greatest Hits Radio overtakes Radio 1 for first time after Ken Bruce joins fellow former BBC stars Simon Mayo and Paul Gambaccini at rival station

Andy Gregory
Thursday 16 May 2024 11:38
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Broadcaster Ken Bruce announces he's leaving BBC Radio after 40 years

Former BBC stars are leading the charge against the public broadcaster at a rival network which has gained a larger audience than Radio 1 following another surge in listeners.

Greatest Hits Radio saw its average weekly audience soar to 7.69 million in the first three months of 2024 – a leap of 50 per cent from its 5.12 million listeners a year earlier.

This was enough to outrank BBC Radio 1 for the first time, which had 7.31 million listeners across the same three-month period, according to data published by the research body Rajar.

Radio presenter Ken Bruce in the Greatest Hits Radio studios in central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The commercial station’s success has been driven by flagship signings such as former BBC DJ Ken Bruce, who joined the network in April 2023 after 30 years at the BBC, bringing the much-loved “Popmaster” quiz with him to Greatest Hits Radio.

The 73-year-old broadcaster – who was replaced by Vernon Kay – recently expressed his hurt that the BBC had allegedly failed to promote the news in 2019 when his mid-morning programme became the most listened-to radio show in the UK.

In joining the ranks at Greatest Hits Radio, Bruce was reunited with former BBC drivetime host Simon Mayo, who has presented the same slot on the network since March 2021, following four decades at BBC radio stations.

The network features a number of other broadcasters who once had long-running shows on BBC radio, including Paul Gambaccini, Jackie Brambles, Alex Lester and Richard Allinson.

Greatest Hits Radio targets a different audience from Radio 1, concentrating on music from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990, as opposed to contemporary pop and dance.

(Greatest Hits Radio)

But the crossover reflects how the UK’s listening habits have changed rapidly in recent years, accompanied by major changes within the radio industry.

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However, BBC Radio 2 still maintains a vast lead over all other music stations, with an average weekly audience of 13.23 million people in the latest quarter – broadly unchanged on the previous three months.

The station shed a million listeners in the immediate aftermath of Ken Bruce’s departure in spring 2023, but this decline has not continued and its figures look to have levelled off.

Radio 1 is also holding steady, with its latest figure of 7.31 million down only slightly from 7.33 million in the previous quarter.

But listeners to the BBC’s local and regional stations have continued to fall, with a total average audience of 6.85 million in January to March 2024, down from 6.99 million in the previous quarter and 7.38 million a year earlier.

The fall has come as the corporation has sought to make savings in the face of high inflation and a licence fee freeze, including plans for local stations to share more content and transmit fewer programmes unique to their areas.

In July-September 2021, the first quarter since Rajar resumed reporting after the Covid-19 pandemic, the BBC’s local and regional audience stood at 9.16 million.

Additional reporting by PA

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