In Depth

Digital radio now more popular than FM

Is traditional transmission nearing its sell-by date? And is rock the new pop?

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Digital radio listenership has outstripped FM and AM radio for the first time in UK history, casting the long-term future of analogue radio into doubt.

According to new figures from radio audience monitor Rajar for the first quarter of 2018, 50.9% of radio consumption came via digital receivers, apps or online players.

This represents a doubling in digital uptake since the same period in 2010, when 76% of us still preferred to tune in to traditional FM or AM broadcasts, Radio Today reports.

Digital and creative industries minister Margot James said the figures represent an “important milestone” for the industry, adding that the government is “completely committed to supporting radio so it continues to thrive in the future”.

The government is now likely to consider whether it needs to review the future of FM radio,” says the BBC, although black spots in digital coverage, particularly in remote areas, means it is “unlikely that the analogue network will be switched off in the foreseeable future”.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the popularity of streaming services and podcasts, live radio remains a central - and growing - part of the nation’s entertainment.

Nine out of ten of British adults said they tune in to the radio at least once a week, with the average listener consuming 20.8 hours of programming per week.

Other findings from the Q1 results include a surge in the popularity of rock music. Planet Rock’s audience rose by 3.4% from last year, while Kerrang!’s grew by 3.7%. Radio X drew in 262,000 new listeners - “a whopping increase of 19.9%”, says Music Week.

It was also a good quarter for commercial radio, which increased the lead over the BBC first established in 2016. Privately run stations like Heart and Magic pulled in around 36m listeners per week, compared to just over 35m for the BBC.

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