Radio in the United Kingdom

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Radio enjoys a huge following in the United Kingdom. There are around 600 licensed radio stations in the country. For a more comprehensive list see List of radio stations in the United Kingdom.

BBC Radio[edit]

The most prominent stations are the national networks operated by the BBC. Five of them are available on analogue radio (FM and AM) whilst the rest are available on BBC Sounds, digital radio and smart speakers.

  • BBC Radio 1 broadcasts contemporary pop and rock music output, including live sessions, for a youth audience, with specialist genres and programmes in the evening
  • BBC Radio 1Xtra broadcasts hip hop, R&B and drum and bass, featuring simulcasts on Radio 1 weeknights and Saturday nights
  • BBC Radio 2 is the UK's most listened-to radio station, playing classic and contemporary music for an older audience, as well as special interest programmes in the evening
  • BBC Radio 3 is a classical music station, broadcasting concerts and operas. At night, it transmits a wide range of jazz, world music and radio dramas
  • BBC Radio 4 is a current affairs and speech station, with news, debate and radio dramas. It broadcasts the daily radio soap The Archers, as well as flagship news programmes Today and The World at One
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcasts comedy, drama and shows which extend or supplement popular programmes on its sister station, Radio 4, including The Archers spin off Ambridge Extra and archived episodes of Desert Island Discs
  • BBC Radio 5 Live broadcasts live news and sports commentary with phone-in debates and studio guests
  • BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra is a companion to 5 Live for additional events coverage
  • BBC Radio 6 Music transmits predominantly alternative music, with many live sessions
  • BBC Asian Network is aimed at the large British Asian community, playing music whilst also broadcasting news and current affairs
  • BBC World Service broadcasts international news and current affairs

The BBC also provide 40 local radio services for England and the Channel Islands, as well as stations from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Commercial radio[edit]

Also available nationally are three national commercial channels, namely Absolute Radio, Classic FM and talkSPORT. As with the BBC, digital radio has brought about many changes, including the roll-out of local stations such as Radio X, Kiss and Kerrang Radio to other areas of the United Kingdom.

Commercial radio licences are awarded by Ofcom, a government body which advertises a licence for an area and holds a so-called beauty contest to determine which station will be granted permission to broadcast in that area. Stations submit detailed application documents containing their proposed format and the outcome of research to determine the demand for their particular style of broadcast. Original 106 (Aberdeen) was the last radio station to be granted a licence by Ofcom.

Most local commercial stations in the United Kingdom broadcast to a city or group of towns within a radius of 20–50 miles, with a second tier of regional stations covering larger areas such as North West England. The predominant format is pop music, but many other tastes are also catered for, particularly in London and the larger cities, and on digital radio.

Rather than operating as independent entities, many local radio stations are owned by large radio groups which broadcast a similar format to many areas. The largest operator of radio is Global Radio which bought the former media group, GCap Media. It owns Classic FM and the Capital radio network. Other owners are Bauer Radio and Wireless Group, which mainly own stations that broadcast in highly populated city areas.

Many of these stations, including all the BBC stations, are also available via digital television services.

Community radio[edit]

Community radio stations broadcast to a small area, normally within a 3-mile (5 km) radius, and are required by the Act to be not-for-profit organisations, owned by local people, on which the broadcasters are mostly volunteers. They are recognised under the Communications Act 2003 as a distinct third tier of radio in the United Kingdom. The community radio movement in the United Kingdom was founded in the mid-1970s, broadcasting through Restricted Service Licences, the internet and cable television.

An Access Radio pilot scheme, launched in 2002, gave fifteen stations, including Resonance FM and ALL FM, trial licences, and this has blossomed into a lively sector, overseen unofficially by the Community Media Association.[1]

The broadcasters predominantly serve an easily defined racial community such as Asian Star Radio in Slough, or a geographically defined community such as Coast FM, Speysound Radio & The Bay Radio.[citation needed] They can also serve religious groups, such as Christian radio station Branch FM in Yorkshire. As well as this, they can also be linked with universities and student unions who run the stations under a community licence, for example Smoke Radio in London, Demon FM in Leicester, and Spark FM in Sunderland

Hospital radio[edit]

Student radio[edit]

Radio publications[edit]


According to RAJAR figures, the top ten stations or networks by listeners nationwide are:[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A comparison of new British community radio stations with established Australian community radio stations". Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. 1 August 2006. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  2. ^ "Practical Wireless". Warners Group Publications Plc. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  3. ^ "RAJAR". Retrieved 2022-07-06.