Radio 2's new boss Helen Thomas on her vision for the station

Radio 2's new boss Helen Thomas on her vision for the station

BBC Radio 2 is still the nation’s most popular radio station – and it could be providing a lifeline for many during lockdown.

In the latest edition of Music Week, newly-promoted head of station Helen Thomas discusses the latest RAJAR results. In Q1, the station was down 6.5% year-on-year to 14.362 million.

Here, Helen Thomas talks ratings, plans for the Breakfast Show and why the station is like a family…

Congratulations on the new role - what are your hopes, plans and ambitions for Radio 2? 

“I’m over the moon with the news that I’ve been tasked with running what I think is the greatest radio station in the world, bar none. We have an incredible line-up of presenters who play the broadest mix of music you will hear anywhere across both our mainstream and specialist output. Distinctiveness runs right through the Radio 2 schedule, whether it’s broadcasting live from a music festival or the House Music sessions we are running on Ken Bruce’s show featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra. I want to continue to maximise distinctiveness right across our schedule, and ensure that everything we do has real impact.”

Radio 2 was stable on the prior quarter, down year-on-year. Is there more competition now?

“To have a weekly audience of over 14 million listeners is an incredible accomplishment in a world where there is so much choice. Radio 2 made such significant weekday schedule changes a year ago that it’s only natural it will take a few quarters for the churn to work through – there’s plenty of choice out there for people who want a mainstream radio offer throughout the day. Radio is valued more than ever before at the moment in these challenging times, and we welcome competition, it ensures everyone keeps re-evaluating what they are doing to provide the most compelling choice for audiences.” 

The breakfast show has lost listeners though still shows resilience in a competitive market. How do you plan to stay on top as the show settles into its second year?

“The Breakfast Show figures were stable this quarter, and let’s not forget – to have a weekly audience of over eight million is incredible. The team were working hard on an exciting 2020 creative calendar for the show before lockdown struck and the priority has been to keep the show on air. Now we have settled into some kind of routine, there’s room to push the bar again and plan for later this year and into 2021.”

To have a weekly audience of over 14 million listeners is an incredible accomplishment in a world where there is so much choice

Helen Thomas

What other RAJAR results were you happy about?

“I was really pleased that Dermot O’Leary and Graham Norton posted increases this quarter, and I’m thrilled for the uplift for Cerys Matthews’ Blues Show and Jamie Cullum’s Jazz Show. Jamie’s ‘recreation’ of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in the rain in his back garden was a delight to listen to and Cerys puts so much heart and soul into her Blues show.”

Are you impressed with how Radio 2 presenters have been broadcasting to the nation during the pandemic?

“I have been bowled over by the commitment of the presenters to stay on air and keep Radio 2 going throughout the crisis. Whether presenters are broadcasting from home or delivering shows from the studio with safe social distancing measures, what it has highlighted is the importance of radio to provide companionship and a sense of reassurance. As well as being kept informed with the latest Covid-19 news through Jeremy Vine and news bulletins, it’s also a place to escape to through music and the warmth of our presenters across the whole schedule. I don’t know if it will translate in a rise in hours or reach in the next RAJARs, but the response from listeners (via text, email, post and social media) has been overwhelming, which tells us that we are giving them what they need at the moment.”

Radio 2 is still comfortably No.1 - why do listeners love it and how can you maintain and build on your market leadership?

“Our listeners have tuned in to Radio 2 and its presenters for many years and see them as friends. Radio 2 is like a family and I think the listeners really relate to that. And the family vibe is genuine - the weekly presenter Zoom calls I’ve instigated to keep them informed through lockdown have become a real highlight! We’ll carry on doing what we’re doing, as over 14 million people choose to listen to Radio 2 each week, which makes me incredibly happy.” 

Radio 2 is nominated in the Radio Station category at the Music Week Awards, while Jo Whiley is in the running for the Radio Show award.

Subscribers can click here to read our RAJAR analysis.

* To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, subscribe to our digital issue by clicking here.

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