The BBC’s local radio shows have seen a drop in listenership over the past two years

BBC local radio shows have suffered a fall in listeners amid planned cuts to their schedule by the corporation, new figures show.

The average weekly audience for local and regional stations has fallen 20% over the past two years, from 9.2 million in the third quarter of 2021 to 7.3 million in the same period for 2023, according to data from research firm Rajar.

The BBC World Service has seen a further decline in listeners, with its average weekly audience down 33% from 1.4 million in July-September 2021 to 940,000 in the same period in 2023.

The figures come as the company sought to make savings in the face of high inflation and a freeze on license fees, including plans for local radio stations to share more content and broadcast fewer programs unique to their regions.

BBC journalists have gone on strike in protest at the proposals, which also include switching some of the World Service's television and radio services to digital.

In its recent annual plan, the BBC said its savings target had risen by 40% to £400m.

In addition to the sharp decline over the past two years, the World Service saw its audience drop 13% from April-June to July-September this year, while listeners on local and regional stations fell 4%.

A BBC spokesman said the figures were “consistent” with the first quarter of the year, but acknowledged the “decline” in the summer months, adding: “We are determined to increase the impact of local radio across the country and will look closely at listening changes during the last period.

“Along with our commitment to local radio, we are also growing our digital offering. For example, online traffic to BBC Local news in England has increased by 21% in the last three months compared to the same period last year.”

But there was better news for the company at Radio 2, where audiences appear to have stabilized following the departure of veteran broadcaster Ken Bruce.

The station averaged 13.5 million listeners in the third quarter of the year – broadly unchanged from the previous three months, after falling by a million from 14.5 million in January-March.

Scottish radio host Bruce left Radio 2 on March 3, having presented his morning show for more than three decades, and launched a new show on Greatest Hits Radio in April – taking his popular music radio quiz PopMaster with him.

Veteran BBC DJ Gary Davies was the mid-morning presenter until May, when Bolton-born broadcaster Vernon Kay took over permanently.

Greatest Hits radio appears to be continuing to enjoy Bruce's rebound, with the average audience now at 6.6 million: up 14% from the previous quarter and more than double the 2.9 million listeners two years ago.

Ken Bruce said he was “delighted” with the latest figures, adding: “Like me, it's great to know more people are enjoying the best music from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as the my fellow broadcasters like Simon Mayo and Jackie Brambles;

“It's been an honor to share this new adventure with those who have changed, and speaking of honors, I have an appointment to keep this Friday, which explains why I'm not on the air this week” – a reference to which Bruce is due to made an MBE in the next few days.

Rajar's latest figures also show that:

– Zoe Ball's Radio 2 morning show averaged a weekly audience of 6.5 million in July-September, down 3% on the previous quarter and down 10% on the same period in 2021.

– Radio 4's Today program was up slightly in the quarter, from 5.5 million to 5.6 million, but was down 15% on the same period two years ago.

– Five Live saw a boost in listeners in the last quarter, which coincided with the Women's World Cup, with its breakfast up 4% over the previous three months and its overall audience up 10%.

– There are no comparable figures for the Radio 1 morning show, due to recent changes to the programme's broadcast time.

The BBC's director of content, Charlotte Moore, said she was “delighted” to have Kay start with the Radio 2 programme, adding that he had brought his “warmth, energy and charisma to listeners up and down the country”.

He added: “We've had an incredible summer of music and sport with a record-breaking Proms mirrored by Radio 3, reaching over two million listeners with their unique commitment to live classical broadcasts.

“The Ashes, Wimbledon, Women's World Cup all boosted 5 Sports Extra significantly as well as performance for 5 Live and BBC Sounds.

“Talk radio continues to thrive with strong linear broadcast. There were over 600 million plays on BBC Sounds for all the content – ​​a new record and an incredible achievement for a platform we only launched five years ago.

“Our digital offering to audiences continues to grow, delivering distinctive live and on-demand content to listeners, wherever and whenever they need it.”