Radio 2's audience plunges as listeners jump ship

Ken Bruce will bring his PopMaster quiz to Greatest Hits Radio with his new show in April as GHR picks up listeners and Radio 2 sees an exodus <i>(Image: Greatest Hits Radio)</i>
Ken Bruce will bring his PopMaster quiz to Greatest Hits Radio with his new show in April as GHR picks up listeners and Radio 2 sees an exodus (Image: Greatest Hits Radio)

THE writing was on the wall with the departure of the station’s biggest names in recent months, but now the numbers are finally in - and they don’t make good reading for bosses at BBC Radio 2.

How bad is it?

BBC Radio 2 has lost nearly 600,000 listeners in the space of a year where the station’s biggest names - including Steve Wright and Ken Bruce - departed or announced plans to leave.

But did they jump or were they pushed?

Helen Thomas took over as the new head of the station in May 2020 with an apparent desire to draw “mood mums” to listen - women in their 40s who are said to like listening to the likes of Sara Cox in the drivetime slot - and has pushed more new music on the playlists in the meantime.

In September, after more than 24 years doing his programme, Steve Wright, 68, left, saying Ms Thomas had told him she “wanted to do something different in the afternoons”. He was replaced by Radio 1’s Scott Mills.

Wright wasn’t alone?

Amid accusations of ageism at play, other DJs have departed, including Paul O’Grady, 67 who was unhappy after a schedule shake-up which saw him share the slot with another presenter, comic Rob Beckett, with each hosting their shows alternately for 13 weeks at a time. Vanessa Feltz, 60, also left, saying older presenters are “not valued in the same way”. Last summer, Craig Charles, 57, saw his Saturday night House Party show axed after eight years.

And then…?

Just last month, Ken Bruce announced he is leaving the BBC after more than 40 years at the end of March. The 72-year-old Scot had the most popular radio show in the country with around 8.5 million listeners to his mid-morning slot a week. It was reported just this week that he left because he felt "unloved" by bosses with a source saying they had "definitely wanted to renew his contract but because of a mix-up nobody told him”.

Number crunching?

Radio 2 is still the UK’s most popular radio station but its overall weekly audience has fallen to 14.29million - a drop of 580,000. Zoe Ball’s Breakfast Show has seen a drop in listeners - down 359,000 in the last quarter of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021, while Ken Bruce's listenership is also down - although his show is still the most listened to on the station with 8.2million, according to data from radio audience measurement body Rajar.

Where are they all going?

Now branded "Radio 2 refugees", they have jumped ship to Greatest Hits Radio, which will be the new home of Bruce's morning show from April, where he will take his iconic PopMaster quiz with him. The station is also home to former Radio 2 DJ Simon Mayo, who left after he had a co-host, Jo Whiley, added to his drivetime slot.

GHR has expanded its audience by nearly a third in the last year to 4.3 million a week. Boom Radio, launched by veterans to target the “baby boomers” born between 1946 and 1964, is also on the rise, attracting more than half a million listeners each week.