Grimshaw loses listeners: Is the future of British radio on the ropes?

Words: Bella Dawe | Subbing: Stella Akinwumi

For many Londoners, morning radio shows are a huge part of British culture. But millenials in particular aren’t following tradition 

For many of us growing up in Britain in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, radio was a part of every day life. Our parents tuned into breakfast shows daily, just as their parents had turned on the ‘wireless’ every morning when they were children and listened to the latest news over tea and toast. Listening to the radio in the morning is arguably just as British as watching Eastenders or Only Fools and Horses. 

BBC Radio 1 has been broadcasting since 1967. Just last month the station hosted a Radio 1 Vintage event to mark its 50th anniversary however, the celebration was tainted with disappointment as the breakfast show also received it’s lowest ever listening figures to date this September.

Nick Grimshaw has been hosting the daily show for the past five years after taking over from radio veteran Chris Moyles.
Although the station’s overall weekly listening figures have barely changed (they were drawing in 9.9 million listeners this time last year and that figure has only shifted to 9.7 million), the breakfast show itself has seen a dramatic drop.
When Grimshaw first took over in 2012, he had a weekly audience of 6.69 million a week. The latest figures from audience research body RAJAR show that this figure has now dropped to less than 5 million for the first time ever.

There is some debate as to whether producers and presenters might be missing the mark when trying to communicate with a younger audience. Smoke Radio presenter Claire Lynch told us she feels like the breakfast show is trying too hard to appeal to the very youngest of it’s key demographic:
“I like Grimmy, but his energy is perhaps misplaced in the sense that it’s all a bit, well, immature. There’s nothing for the 21-30 demographic anymore in terms of humour and culture.[…] His character on air can be rather irritating”.

It’s true that Grimshaw’s show in particular seems to be one of the only prime time shows suffering the loss when compared with other shows on Radio 1 and within other BBC stations. Dan Seamarks, Director of the Media Society at the University of Westminster argues that BBC radio shows overall are not doing so bad:
“We see that Radio 2 and Radio 4’s breakfast shows both outrank Radio 1 by around 2 and 4 million people respectively. I think that shows that it isn’t Nick, nor the content, it is simply a shift in how young people engage with radio.”

It’s hard to be certain why exactly this change is taking place but like most decreases in traditional media outlets we can more than likely blame the digital age. Lots of households don’t even own a radio these days, a challenge that broadcasters have attempted to combat by shifting to more online, digital content.
“Their [Radio 1’s] content has significant traction online and I suspect that the figures would possibly be reversed if we were discussing Radio 4’s average daily views on YouTube, for example.” explains Dan. 

If young people are listening to radio differently now, are they also changing the way they approach working in the industry? For some, going into an industry that seems to be declining in popularity could be daunting but Claire, who also studies a degree in radio as well as presenting a show, seems optimistic:
“I don’t know if confident is the right word, but I feel assured that things are going in the right direction to get work when I graduate.”

Ben Cooper, controller at Radio 1, said in an interview with BBC News that student media organisations are essential to revealing upcoming talent within the industry:
“Student radio and community radio is the one place where you still see people passionate about getting into a room with a microphone and broadcasting to listeners. That’s where I look for the next talent.”


You can listen weekly to Claire Lynch’s “Smoke Introduces” show on Smoke Radio, Wednesdays 7-8pm for exclusives from upcoming artists and the latest news from the likes of Benjamin Yellowitz, who will be on the show next week.

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