'Our music strategy has evolved in line with our audience': Lewis Carnie on the future of Radio 2

'Our music strategy has evolved in line with our audience': Lewis Carnie on the future of Radio 2

On the latest cover of Music Week, you’ll find BBC Radio 1 station controller Ben Cooper and star Breakfast presenter Greg James explaining how they’re meeting the modern demands of young audiences.

But over at BBC Radio 2, the evolution is just as exciting, with new presenters and a freshened up music policy.

It was a tough RAJARS quarter for the station, with new Breakfast presenter Zoe Ball taking a big hit. But Lewis Carnie, head of Radio 2, is full of confidence about the station’s future…

Radio 2 is down 2.3% this quarter in reach – what do you think happened?

“We’re thrilled that Radio 2 has over 14.5 million listeners each week, which remains an incredible figure and one that we're very proud of. I know that we have the right presenters, in the right slots, at the right time. As I’ve worked at Radio 2 for many years, I remember when Chris [Evans] dropped a million after taking over from Sir Terry Wogan in 2010, so this is not new territory. As we have a large audience, seasonal fluctuations can be in the hundreds of thousands. But saying that, competition in the radio arena has never been so great as new digital services are being launched each quarter, and we welcome that. Listeners have more choice than ever before in the history of the radio industry, and they're trying other services. We, as a radio industry, want radio listeners to continue listening by whatever device they wish. Radio continues to be alive and kicking.”    

With a fall in Radio 2 listening hours, was there an impact from the schedule shake-up?

“There is always audience churn when major schedule changes are made and you have to wait for a few quarters to see the figures settle down. But as everyone in radio knows, you cannot keep a schedule the same forever. You need to evolve and move forwards, which is what we’ve done. We’ll continue to deliver programming of the highest quality, presented by some of the UK’s best-loved presenters. Radio 2 still reaches one in four radio listeners each week, a statistic I’m hugely proud of. I couldn't be happier with how Radio 2 sounds at the moment." 

Has there been any noticeable impact in listening from the shift in music policy?

“We haven’t noticed any impact or had any indication in our audience research that our slight shift in music policy has affected the audience figures. Regular listeners know that when you tune into Radio 2 you’ll hear the best of the best adult pop music, both new and old, with a broad appeal to a family audience. So you’ll still hear ELO, Paul McCartney and Hall & Oates, but you will also hear Mabel, Sam Smith and Taylor Swift. Our music strategy, expertly led by Jeff Smith, has evolved in line with our audiences’ tastes perfectly, and I’m very happy with how we’re sounding. Our appeal is the broad range of music that we play, and that what makes us stand out in the marketplace. We know our listeners want to hear the best of today's new music, so we combine that with some of the best loved music from the past six decades.” 

What do you think happened at breakfast - are these tricky quarters to be expected amid big schedule changes? 

“Zoe has settled in easily and sounds happy and confident, which is evident in the output. Her team, who are Tina Daheley (news), Richie Anderson (travel) and Mike Williams (sport) work brilliantly together, and you can hear every day on air that they’re having a great time. Friends Round Friday continues to entertain and with 8.4m listeners each week, Zoe’s show is on the ball.”

I know that we have the right presenters, in the right slots, at the right time

Lewis Carnie

Ken Bruce is now the most popular broadcaster in the country - what's his extraordinary appeal as a DJ? 

“Ken’s mix of warmth, wit and wry Scots humour, combined with a killer music plot, is the recipe for success on his show. After 34 years on Radio 2, how incredible that he’s now the most listened to show on the network, and on UK radio. His daily PopMaster quiz is a phenomenon as millions of people around the UK really do stop for PopMaster each week.  He's just returned from a  'We Stop for PopMaster' UK tour, which saw him take his live show around the UK and like all of our presenters, he is so loved. It was fantastic to see him presenting his show outside of Wogan House in front of Radio 2 listeners. The regular Piano Room slot, which Jeff introduced last year, which sees musicians performing around our Elton John piano, was a welcome addition to the show, as our listeners love to hear artists perform live acoustically. Ken is a titan of broadcasting and we congratulate him on the huge success of his show.”

How are the other new shows settling in, particular Jo Whiley and Sara Cox?

“The other new shows are on fine form, including Jo, Sara and Rylan on Saturday afternoons. His conversations with his mum are crazy but brilliant. Jo continues to shine a light on burgeoning new artists and Sara's show perfectly matches the listeners' mood as they travel home from work and prepare for their evenings.”

With the advance of digital, any thoughts on switching off FM?

“Whilst we've got brilliant digital services across the BBC radio portfolio, we need to be audience led and there are still a lot of listeners to FM that we need to serve.  However, this is a decision for the Government.”

To read the latest RAJARS analysis, subscribers can click here. The Radio 1 cover story is here.


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