How listeners rely on commercial radio during elections

Michael Ireland, Radiocentre Director of External Affairs, writes about the importance of news on commercial radio during the elections.

“They don’t spin their own agenda, they just tell you the facts”

These wise words are from Michelle who lives in Bristol and is a typical commercial radio listener. Michelle is referring to news bulletins she hears on commercial radio every week, along with 39 million other people around the country.

The political party manifestos have now all been published and there are just a few weeks left until the general election. Election fever/fatigue (delete as appropriate!) is palpable.  

Political campaigning is going into overdrive, and while the candidates are busy knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and conducting media interviews, everyone else is generally busy getting on with their own lives. 

Party manifestos don’t typically make for the most scintillating reading. Add to that a general sense of political and voter apathy and the fact that we are more time poor than ever, it’s a pretty safe bet that most people will rely on information and headlines from the media. 

Election or not, commercial radio is a crucial source of news for listeners every single day of the year and last week Radiocentre published the results of new research highlighting the role played by radio broadcasters in the run up to 4th July. 

Michelle from Bristol was part of this study, conducted earlier this year by leading research consultancy Differentology. It ran a survey with over 3000 listeners and carried out further in-depth interviews with commercial radio audiences from around the country. Here’s what it found.

Radio – the most trusted medium 

Concern about false and misleading news is high, with 63% of listeners saying they are concerned or very concerned about this type of information being presented as news.

However, radio continues to be the most trusted medium for news and is considered to be the most impartial and accurate news source during an election. 

It’s perhaps not hugely surprising that there is a direct correlation between regulation of different types of media and trust in them. For example, trust in radio news is also over double the level for social media. 

Cutting through with listeners 

With news and election fatigue understandably embedding in, cutting through is vital. Radio, along with TV, is the top source of news that is least likely to be avoided due to distrust, with social media (followed by newspapers) most likely to be avoided.  

In the run up to an election, commercial radio is seen as the best form of audio for quick updates and a summary of key events. The UK audio market has seen exciting transformation in recent years, so it’s not just succinct summaries of election headlines that are delivered to listeners, with broadcasters across the industry investing in news and current affairs podcasts. 

The study also found that commercial radio news really cuts through to listeners, encouraging discussion and debate, as well as prompting people to find out more on other media – 7 out of 10 listeners have taken an action such as these after hearing a bulletin. 

This cut through is also strong with young people (16-24s), who are most likely to discuss what they’ve heard on commercial radio news with family and friends – and there are over 4.7 million listening. This is particularly worth highlighting as election coverage on social media is not always what it seems. 

We are all concerned with the levels of misinformation that voters, particularly younger first-time voters are being served on platforms like TikTok. Just last week a new report from the BBC highlighted that social media was already littered with fake AI-generated videos featuring party leaders, misinformation and clips with abusive comments.   

Reaching beyond the bubble

Finally, commercial radio news also has a unique ability to reach an important group of potential swing voters. Outsiders (over a third of commercial radio listeners and who identify as least engaged with news) are more likely to say they don’t know who they will vote for in the upcoming election. 

This group is also most likely to turn to commercial radio as their primary news source, and their reliance on it has grown since 2020. 

For those looking to reach a wider electorate, it is worth remembering that many people like Michelle from Bristol are listening to their favourite stations, taking in the facts from the regular news updates throughout the day as they go about their busy lives. And on 4th July they’ll be going out to vote. 

Michael Ireland

Radiocentre Director of External Affairs 

A new summary of Breaking News: How commercial radio cuts through with listeners in a general election is here. The full report is available here