Do you remember rock'n'roll radio?: Inside rock stations' RAJAR revival

Foo Fighters

Rock music may be struggling on streaming services and in the charts, but at radio the genre seems to be undergoing a resurgence.

That’s the message from the Q4 2017 RAJAR figures, which show a number of rock-oriented stations posting significant growth figures for their weekly reach. Highlights include Radio X posting a 3.7% year-on-year and 26% quarter-on-quarter rise to 1.580 million and the main Absolute network surging 6% year-on-year and 21.8% quarter-on-quarter to 2.608m, while Planet Rock, Virgin and BBC 6 Music also posted good figures.

Bauer’s Tony Moorey, group content director for the Absolute and Magic networks, said increased competition in the sector had boosted overall listening.

“Take us back two and a half years when we knew a rejuvenated [Radio] X and Virgin were on their way, we knew it could potentially go one of two routes,” Moorey told Music Week. “Either we all would take a smaller piece of the same-sized cake or the additional airplay could actually boost the market. There’s more competition, but it seems to be boosting the whole guitar-led market.”

“Rock and indie rock are very important to 6,” said Paul Rodgers, head of BBC Radio 6 Music. “You can see that in the heritage music we play and it’s very strongly represented in our playlist. We are much broader than a rock radio station but I am delighted to see rock radio, which I like very much, doing well.”

“Rock has been under-represented and these stations have addressed that a little bit,” Lewis Carnie, head of BBC Radio 2, told Music Week. “And obviously they’re getting great results. X in particular has done very well; Chris Moyles is doing a very good job for them.”

But Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper, whose station has moved away from rock in recent times – although the likes of Portugal The Man, Asking Alexandria and Foo Fighters all feature on the current playlist – was less convinced that the figures were down to increased demand for rock music.

“I’m really pleased for them but I’m not sure whether that’s a reflection of the music or the demographic,” Cooper said. “My hunch is Absolute and Radio X are benefitting from a generational shift. They’ve got Moyles on X doing very well and getting great figures, there’s a market there.

“Our own Rock Show on a Sunday was moved to an earlier time because we’d seen new bands coming through and a new community of rock fans,” added Cooper. “We said, ‘OK, there’s something going on here, let’s put it in at 7pm on Sunday as an alternative to the mainstream TV that’s going on downstairs with the family. You can go upstairs and enjoy rock music on Radio 1. So it’s a bit of both, generational stuff and new music.”

Radio X, BBC Radio 6 Music, Planet Rock and Absolute are all shortlisted for best Radio Show at the 2018 Music Week Awards, while the likes of Kerrang!'s Alex Baker and Absolute's Danielle Perry will contest the Radio Show category.

Yet the singles chart has become almost a no-go zone for rock of late, with the genre struggling on streaming services, despite efforts by Spotify and Deezer to incorporate specialist playlists. But rock remains a force on the albums chart and the live circuit, and indie rockers Pale Waves were hailed as the most tipped act of 2018, so could a radio-led rebirth be on the cards? Watch this space…

To read Music Week's full RAJAR analysis, see this week's print edition or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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