What Are the Most Popular Radio Stations in the UK?

As the longest-established radio provider in the UK, the BBC still dominates, with over 32 million listeners each week for its national stations, 8.4 million for local and regional, and 1.5 million for its world service.

However, other providers are making inroads, principally Global Radio that has 23 million listeners across brands such as Heart, Capital, Smooth and Classic FM, and Bauer Radio with 17.9 million for Kiss, Magic and others.

There are conflicting data about which the most popular UK radio stations in terms of number of listeners and the situation is changing constantly, but the following should be a fair representation in 2018.

1. BBC Radio 2

The most popular radio station in the UK was launched in 1967 when the station evolved from the BBC’s Light Programme.

It now has a regular weekly audience of 15.4 million and broadcasts on FM and DAB. It’s available on the internet as well as through TV providers and has broadcast continuously since early 1979.

Like all BBC stations, Radio 2 is publicly funded by the licence fee and doesn’t have any advertisements. It has a broad playlist that ranges mainly from the 1960s to the present day and it also features current affairs items. Around 80% of listeners are aged over 35 although the station has started to attract a younger audience.

Website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2
FM Frequency: 88.1-90.2 MHz
DAB Frequency: 12B (225.648 MHz)

 

2. BBC Radio 4

Broadcasting on FM, LW and DAB as well as online and via various TV providers such as Freeview, Sky and Virgin, Radio 4 is the UK’s second most popular radio station. It is regarded as the BBC’s flagship radio station and generally broadcasts a mixture of news, documentaries and drama, plus some comedy, to around 11 million listeners weekly.

Radio 4 started broadcasting in 1967 as a publicly funded station that replaced the BBC’s Home Service and is best known for programmes such as The Archers, Desert Island Discs, Today and The World at One. It also broadcasts the Shipping Forecast, which takes precedence over all other output.

Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
FM Frequency: 92.5-96.1 MHz
DAB Frequency: 
12B (225.648 MHz)

 

3. BBC Radio 1

This station began broadcasting in 1967 and has had 24-hour transmissions since May 1991. It was launched to attract audiences from the pirate radio stations of the day and has always claimed its target listeners are aged 15-29, although the actual average age of the almost 10 million audience is 30.

To attract a younger age group, the station plays mainly current music through the day and more specialised new music at night. As a public service broadcaster, it is also required to provide news and offers hourly short bulletins and two 15-minute bulletins each day. It now broadcasts on FM and DAB frequencies as well as via TV providers and online.

Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1
FM Frequency: 97.1, 97.7-99.8 MHz
DAB Frequency:
12B (225.648 MHz)

 

4. Heart

Part of the Global Radio brand, Heart launched in 1994 in the West Midlands as the UK’s third independent regional radio station and now has 22 local stations across the UK, three of which are franchised. Transmissions are across various FM frequencies, depending on the area, and have a total of around 9.6 million listeners.

The stations aim for a mixture of ‘rhythmic and hot’ adult contemporary music, having changed from a softer style two years after launch. There are also hourly news bulletins plus advertisements to finance this commercial operation.

Website: http://www.heart.co.uk/
FM Frequency: 88-108 MHz (varies locally – see all frequencies here)

 

5. Capital FM

Another member of the Global Radio group, Capital began in 1973 in London and has now developed across the UK to a total of twelve stations, two of which are franchised. It broadcasts on FM and DAB frequencies plus via various television providers.

The commercial stations have a combined weekly audience of 8.7 million and provide a mixture of local and networked programming that features contemporary music and news bulletins, with local content being breakfast and drive-time shows. The target audience is 15-34 year-olds, around 57% of listeners being within that age group.

Website: http://www.capitalfm.com/
FM Frequency: 95-108 MHz (varies locally)
DAB Frequency: 
D1

 

6. BBC Radio 5 Live

The successor to BBC’s Radio 5, 5 Live launched in 1994 and now transmits on medium wave and DAB frequencies as well as over the internet and through various television providers. It was originally envisaged as a rolling news service but is now the main radio station for sport. 5 Live covers most major sporting events and also provides news, interviews and phone-in programmes.

5 Live is publicly funded by the TV licence and has a regular audience of 5.5 million weekly. A companion station, 5 Live Sports Extra, was launched as a digital channel to supplement the sport offering.

Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/5live
AM Frequency: 693/909 kHz
DAB Frequency: 
12B (225.648 MHz)

 

7. Smooth

Providing adult contemporary music, this service launched in March 2014 and now has a network of 24 radio stations across the UK. Nine of these stations broadcast on FM while a further fourteen are AM and one operates digitally through television providers. All are commercial stations, three of the FM licences being franchised and the rest operated by Global Radio.

The stations, with a combined audience of 5.4 million, offer relaxing music and a mixture of national and local content. The latter tends to be breakfast and drive-time programmes on weekdays.

Website: http://www.smoothradio.com/
FM Frequency: 97 MHz-108 MHz (varies locally)

 

8. Classic FM

Claiming to be the UK’s only 100% classical music station, Classic FM is also one of only three independent national radio stations in the UK. It launched in 1992 and is a commercial station owned by Global Radio.

Transmissions are via FM, DAB, the internet and various television providers, and there are around 5.3 million weekly listeners. Music comprises a play list of over 50,000 classical tracks plus some film scores that are more modern. The station broadcasts a ‘Hall of Fame’ of the 300 most popular classical pieces each Easter weekend and generally has a mixture of populist talk and light classical music.

Website: http://classicfm.com/
FM Frequency: 99.9-101.9 MHz
DAB Frequency: 
11D (UK except Scotland), 12A (Scotland)

 

9. Kiss

Starting as an unlicensed pirate radio station in 1985, Kiss relaunched as a legal commercial station in 1990 and is now owned by Bauer Radio. It focuses largely on dance music plus hip hop, house and R&B, and also has specialist programmes dedicated to techno, grime and other genres.

Kiss broadcasts on FM across London, the Severn Estuary and East Anglia, and nationally through DAB frequencies as well as various television providers. It has a combined weekly audience of 4.3 million and, having previously offered some local content, has provided a purely national service since 2010.

Website: https://planetradio.co.uk/kiss/
FM Frequency: 100 MHz (London), 101 MHz (Severn Estuary), 97.2 MHz (Bristol), 105.6/106.1/106.4/107.7 MHz (East Anglia)

 

10. Magic

With a weekly audience of around 3.4 million, Magic has eight commercial stations across the North of England and one in London. The brand was launched in 1990 and all stations were given the Magic name after their acquisition by Metro Radio in 1995. The stations were subsequently bought by Bauer Radio and most became part of the Bauer City 2 network and were further rebranded.

The London station, Magic 105.4 FM, is the only one to retain the Magic name.

Website: https://planetradio.co.uk/magic/
FM Frequency: 105.4 FM (London)

 

Data sources:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/286892/uk-radio-stations-ranked-by-listeners-reached/

https://media.info/radio/data/the-most-popular-radio-stations-in-the-uk

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