'It has been a challenging quarter for all radio': Lewis Carnie on BBC Radio 2's battle plan

'It has been a challenging quarter for all radio': Lewis Carnie on BBC Radio 2's battle plan

BBC Radio 2's senior head of content commissioning Lewis Carnie has backed Zoe Ball after listening figures for her station's breakfast show dipped beneath eight million. 

The show dropped its weekly reach from 8.24m to 7.9m year-on-year in Q3 to record its lowest RAJAR figures in a decade. The programme was more than a million listeners down on the 9m garnered by Chris Evans' Radio 2 swansong in Q4 2018 and around 300,000 down on the previous quarter. Ball took over the breakfast slot from Chris Evans in January. 

"Zoe still has the most listened to breakfast show in the UK and the show’s sounding great with her every morning," Carnie told Music Week. "It has been a challenging quarter for all radio – both BBC stations and commercial networks and particularly in the breakfast market and her show still dominates this slot at a time of unprecedented competition coming at us from all sides."

Overall, Radio 2 checked in with 14.18 million listeners – down 3.1% year-on-year and 2.8% quarter-on-quarter. Here, in a Q&A, Carnie opens up on the latest RAJAR results, BBC Sounds and the appointment of new pop controller Lorna Clarke...

What are you most pleased with in terms of R2’s RAJAR results? 

We’re delighted of course that Radio 2 remains the most listened to radio station in the UK – by some considerable margin. Some fluctuation is expected, particularly over the summer months. And we need to remember that we made an unprecedented amount of change earlier this year – so some churn is absolutely expected as new schedule continues to settle in. We’re proud of our distinctive output, huge range of popular and specialist music and outstanding line-up of presenters, who entertain 14.2 million people each week.

Are there any particular performances you would like to praise?

All of our production teams and shows contribute to keeping Radio 2 the most popular station in the UK. This quarter Ken Bruce has proven he is still as popular as ever with 8.44 million people tuning in every week – that’s more than any other radio station in the country. Rylan Clark Neal – whose Saturday afternoon show was introduced as part of the new schedule on the network earlier this year - also performed really well this quarter, as has Claudia Winkleman. 

What are the areas for growth, in your opinion? 

The current radio market is very competitive with so many services very focused on particular market demographics. The strength of Radio 2 has always been its distinction and the breadth of its offer. Our range of programming is probably the most unique in the world in terms of the music genres we cover – add to that documentaries, news and current affairs, the specialist music shows and some of the biggest entertainment names in the country and you can see how very broad we are. We have no intention of deviating from that, so any areas of growth will be from audiences who find our incredibly varied palate appealing as we continue to serve the whole adult market aged 35+.  

Has BBC Sounds benefited your station’s output in terms of listener gain? Did the BBC Iplayer switch-off effect you?

There was a big lift in take up of BBC Sounds when the BBC iPlayer Radio switch off happened. Our Radio 2 Beatles pop-up content performed very well there – in fact it’s still picking up listeners as they search for output from that initiative. It’s just a matter of migration so I wouldn’t expect there to be an impact. It’s great we now have a brilliant digital home for all of our audio so that all of our audiences, including Radio 2’s, can listen to our programmes both live and on demand whenever they want to, and discover new content too.

Will the appointment of a pop controller impact on how you operate?

I think it’s a very exciting time for BBC Radio. The market is very competitive but we have excellent talent in place, work with great production both in and out of house – so we are up for that challenge. I’ve worked with Lorna [Clarke] for many years now and know that she understands the business inside and out and what we need to be at the top end of our industry. Personally I’m very much looking forward to working with her now that she’s started.

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