Listeners desert BBC Radio Scotland: audience plummets 20 per cent in just one year

BBC Radio Scotland listeners numbers fall by 20 per cent in a year
BBC Radio Scotland listeners numbers fall by 20 per cent in a year

BBC Radio Scotland has lost a fifth of all listeners in a year, according to the latest audience numbers.

The figures published by the research body Rajar, show that nearly 196,000 people have turned off the national broadcaster over the last 12 months.

In the final quarter of 2021, 976,000 people were tuning in, but by the same time last year that had fallen to 780,000, a 20.1 per cent drop.

Last year, the station had an audience share of 7.5%, but that has now dipped to 6.2%.

READ MORE: Row erupts over BBC Scotland plan to axe music programmes

There was some good news for bosses at Pacific Quay, listener numbers for the winter were up slightly on the previous three months when they had dropped to 755,000.

The drop in numbers for Radio Scotland is significantly sharper than it is for other BBC stations.

Radio 4 recorded 10.1 million listeners, down from 10.5 last year, a drop of 3.8%.

News of the plummeting audience comes as the broadcaster faces criticism over plans to scrap programmes covering jazz, classical and traditional music.

Classics Unwrapped, Pipeline Jazz Nights are all set for the axe, infuriating some of the country’s most respected musicians.

An open letter calling for the decision to be reversed has been backed Edinburgh International Festival Nicola Benedetti, composer Sir James MacMillan, Scottish Opera director Alex Reedijk, Scotland’s Makar, Kathleen Jamie, and jazz pianist Fergus McCreadie.

Former culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop told The Herald: "The BBC charter provides BBC Radio Scotland with an opportunity if they live up to it. They've got to reflect public service broadcasting values, and cutting specialist programmes for music where they can build new audiences is backwards step."

Tory MSP Maurice Golden, who sits on Holyrood's culture committee said:"It’s important to remember that the BBC’s responsibility goes well beyond listening figures.

“They have a duty as a public service broadcaster to inform, educate and entertain and my view is they do all those things very well.

“That said, they themselves will be concerned about these figures and will want to turn it around.

“I hope they reconsider some of the recent proposals around specialist programming, and always keep an open mind about what it is the general public want to hear from their broadcasters."

READ MORE: LETTERS: Shame on BBC Scotland for its appalling act of cultural barbarism

A spokesperson for the BBC said the drop was, in part, because of the pandemic.

They said: "We were experiencing very high audience numbers as people turned to us for Covid information and updates throughout the pandemic period.

"In the final quarter of 2021 the pandemic was still a dominant story as a result of the Omicron variant wave and related restrictions and health measures.

"Overall our content continues to perform robustly and in the linear space, Radio Scotland maintains its position as the second most listened to station in Scotland after Radio Two.

"We are also seeing significant growth in our digital products and podcasts as the audio market evolves.

"Separate to the Rajar figures, during the last quarter (Oct-Dec), on BBC Sounds there were 4.7 million UK plays of radio and podcast content produced by Scotland.

"Among the podcast titles performing particularly well are The Cruelty – A Child Unclaimed, Good Ship BrewDog, Bible John – Creation of a Serial Killer and Sacked in the Morning.

"Between them they have had almost three million plays so far on Sounds."

Other key findings in the latest Rajar report show that in Scotland, there were surges for Bauer owned Forth 2, which saw its audience jump by 131%. Though sister station Tay 2, dropped by 42%. Both stations are soon to be taken into the UK-wide Greatest Hits Radio.

The relatively new Pure Radio Scotland (Central) recorded a 200% increase, up from  9,000 listeners to 27,000.

Radio 2’s audience remained broadly stable in October-December at 14.3 million, down just 1% on the previous three months - despite the departure of long-running afternoon host Steve Wright.

READ MORE: Ken Bruce to leave Radio 2 after more than 30 years

GB News Radio, which launched at the start of 2022, saw listeners fall quarter-on-quarter by 26%, from 415,000 to 306,000.

Times Radio, which launched in June 2020, reported an average audience of 563,000, up 4% on the previous quarter.

The figures showed that around 49.7 million adults or 89% of the population listen to the radio every week, with the average listener consuming 20.3 hours a week.