BBC Radio 2 has lost 580,000 listeners in a year where they ripped up their schedule and older stars including Ken Bruce, Steve Wright and Paul O’Grady were shipped out for younger DJs such as Scott Mills.
The station has found itself at the centre of an ageism storm as commercial rivals playing more music from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s saw their audiences grow.
So-called ‘Radio 2 refugees’ have abandoned the station for Boom Radio – the station is aimed at baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 – and Greatest Hits Radio, the new home of Ken Bruce, who will take his beloved PopMaster quiz with him in March.
Radio 2 is still the UK’s most popular station but its overall weekly audience has fallen by 580,000 to 14.29million.
Breakfast show host Zoe Ball has seen a drop in listeners while Ken Bruce’s listenership is also down – although his show is still the most listened to on the station with 8.2million, according to Rajar.
Radio 2 has seen a drop in 580,000 weekly listeners as BBC bosses revamp the schedule with new younger DJs
Radio 2’s breakfast show, presented by Zoe Ball, has lost the most weekly listeners among main BBC stations
Radio 2’s breakfast show, presented by Zoe Ball, has lost the most weekly listeners among main BBC stations.
The total was down 359,000 in the last quarter of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021. However, it is still the most listened to breakfast radio programme with a weekly audience of 7.1million.
Radio 4’s Today dropped by 282,000 to 6.1million in the same period. Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show also lost around 200,000, down to 1.6million a week.
The figures, published by research group Rajar, show all the major BBC stations saw a decline in listeners over the past 12 months. Radio 2 lost just over half a million listeners – down 3.9 per cent.
It came as Steve Wright, 68, was replaced in the afternoon slot after 23 years by Radio 1’s Scott Mills, 49.
Paul O’Grady, 67, who was at Radio 2 for 14 years, quit his show months after he was forced to share the time slot with comedian Rob Beckett, 37, while Ken Bruce, 71, last month announced his departure after 31 years on the UK’s most popular radio programme.
He is moving to Greatest Hits Radio which boosted its audience by nearly a third in the last year to 4.3million a week.
BBC insiders claimed feeling ‘unloved’ by bosses who failed to reassure him over a new contract even though they wanted to keep him was the reason for his decision to leave.
Bruce will move to Greatest Hits Radio on April 3. The station has grown its audience by nearly a third in the last year to 4.3 million a week.
Boom Radio, the station launched by veterans to target the ‘baby boomers’ born between 1946 and 1964, is also growing, attracting more than half a million listeners each week.
The station more than doubled its audience from 242,000 to 531,000 from 2021 to 2022.
Chief executive Phil Riley said: ‘As top DJs abandon the BBC, it seems the listeners are doing the same, and Boom Radio is providing a new home for those listeners with their favourite presenters.
‘In fact, in our own research almost 80 per cent of Boom listeners say they are listening less to Radio 2.’
Radio 2 fans have accused the BBC of ageism as a string of older DJs step back, including Paul O’Grady, Steve Wright, Ken Bruceand Simon Mayo, replaced by ex-Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, RuPaul’s Michelle Visage, Rylan and DJ Spoony
One listener recently thanked the broadcaster for ‘providing a decent station for the listeners that Radio 2 no longer wants’ and another described themselves as a “Radio 2 refugee”.’
Boom Radio bosses poached O’Grady for a special Christmas Day show last year.
The BBC has lost more over 45s (798,000) compared to those aged 15-44 (479,000) in the last year.
Commercial stations have gained 802,000 over 45s, an increase of 4.2 per cent.
Radio 3 has suffered the biggest station-wide drop, down 6.3 per cent to 1.8 million, while Radio 1 – home to DJs including Greg James and Clara Amfo – is down 4.6 per cent to 7.7 million listeners a week. Radio 4 has dropped 3.8 per cent to 1 million.
Overall, the weekly reach of radio in the UK is up from 49.4 million to 49.6 million per week.
Vanessa Feltz last month accused the BBC of ‘ageism’ as it was claimed Ken Bruce turned down a contract and quit Radio 2 because of the ‘seemingly ever-younger DJs’ bosses brought in and its ‘edgier’ playlist.
The star broadcaster is leaving the corporation after 45 years – and his mid-morning show after 31 years – taking his beloved PopMaster quiz with him to Greatest Hits Radio.
Fans were left in tears and have vowed never to listen to Radio 2 again when Ken’s contract ends in March.
But his exit has left the BBC at the centre of another ageism storm as another of its biggest stars for decades walked away.
Ms Feltz claimed that she was cut loose by the Beeb after she passed 60. She said that older presenters are ‘not valued in the same way’, adding: ‘The music isn’t as appealing because they’ve changed it to appeal to a younger crowd they’re so desperate to get’.
She added on ITV’s This Morning: ‘Think of all of the people who have left: Paul O’Grady’s gone. I’ve gone. Steve Wright’s there, but not much. Chris Evans has left. Graham Norton too’.
Vanessa Feltz accused the BBC of ‘ageism’ as it emerged that Ken Bruce will join Greatest Hits Radio later this year after it was announced he is leaving his mid-morning weekday slot on BBC Radio 2 after 31 years
Ken, pictured in the studio in 1984, was said to have been unhappy with the direction Radio 2 was headed – and is taking PopMaster with him
Ken Bruce was said to be pondering staying before deciding to jump ship to a commercial rival.
One insider said: ‘Ken is still hugely ambitious and the BBC actually offered him a new deal. But after some months of negotiations, he decided the time was right for new opportunities’.
The source told The Sun: ‘The music has become edgier and more modern and the DJs seemingly ever-younger, which is a bit concerning for the old guard’.
Rylan Clark and Gary Davies are being touted as his replacement on the mid-morning show he has run since 1986 – aside from a short gap between 1990 and 1992.
Radio 2 is trying to modernise – playing less music from before the 1990s and bringing in younger DJs, including from Radio 1.
Ken is expected to obtain a significant pay increase from his BBC salary of nearly £400,000 by moving to the station owned by media giant Bauer. Bruce’s current 9.30am to 12 noon programme, including the daily PopMaster quiz, is the most popular show on British radio with more than 8.5million listeners a week.
His departure comes after the corporation last year axed Steve Wright’s Radio 2 afternoon show after more than 20 years and replaced him with former Radio 1 presenter Scott Mills, 49, sparking a backlash from listeners.
Sources had claimed at the time that 68-year-old Wright’s departure was part of moves to cut the average age of the main presenters on Radio 2.
Other older hosts who have left over the past year include Paul O’Grady, 67, and Vanessa Feltz, 60. O’Grady’s slot went to comedian Rob Beckett, 37, while Ms Feltz is handing over the reins to 38-year-old Welsh broadcaster Owain Wyn Evans. Previously Radio 2 star Graham Norton, 59, quit to join Virgin Radio and his Saturday morning slot went to Claudia Winkleman, 51.
Ken Bruce said he has done all he could at the BBCV and wants a fresh challenge for the end of his career
Ken Bruce (pictured with his good friend Rod Stewart) is leaving the BBC after 45 years, quitting Radio 2 for Greatest Hits Radio
Last night the BBC said it was ‘categorically untrue’ that it had decided not to renew Bruce’s contract.
However, an industry insider said there was a ‘massive reinvention of the network’ going on at Radio 2.
A senior station source described Bruce’s departure as a ‘seismic event’ as he was the ‘heart of the profession’.
Among top names being touted as replacements are Rylan Clark, 34, DJ Spoony, 52, Dermot O’Leary, 49, Jason Manford, 41, Matt Lucas, 48, and Ms Winkleman.
Listeners reacted with frustration and dismay to Bruce quitting yesterday. One wrote on the station’s Facebook page: ‘Sadly the continuing demise of Radio 2.’
Another added: ‘Absolutely gutted. Ken is the only daily show I listen to now on R2 since Steve Wright’s departure.’ Bruce, who will leave in March, joined the BBC in 1977 when he worked for Radio Scotland. The father of six told his listeners yesterday: ‘I have now decided that the time is right for me to move on from Radio 2.
‘I’ll reach the end of my current contract in March… nothing stays the same for ever.