P3 is a radio station for kids, right? 

19th March 2024
Many in Sweden have the perception that Swedish Radio’s radio station P3 is “just for young people,” whilst some still believe that P3 is losing listeners. But neither is true, writes Simon Gooch, Head of P3, describing the unique turnaround that the channel has undergone.  
Simon Gooch - Head of P3 at Swedish Radio - photographer Mattias Ahlm/Swedish Radio

This post was originally published on Swedish Radio and is republished with permission

By Simon Gooch, Head of P3, Swedish Radio  

“P3 is a station for music lovers who also want to keep up to date with popular culture and current affairs. It’s these interests that unite the audience, not their age.” 

This is how we sum up the strategy behind the transformation of P3 that began in 2019. We had been struggling with declining listener numbers for a while and conducted a thorough analysis of what was wrong. The lessons we learned have been put into action, and today P3 is something quite unusual, even globally, a radio channel that has reversed a downward trend. In 2023, P3 had an average daily reach of approximately 1.1 million linear and on-demand listeners in a country with approximately 10 million inhabitants. That’s an increase of about 40,000 listeners compared to the previous year, which is unique in today’s radio market. 

What we are doing now is aimed at attracting back listeners who have left us and reaching new radio listeners. The goal is not to target the listeners of other channels; radio listening is not a zero-sum game. We want a strong “dual system” where public service radio and commercial stations in Sweden all have a role to play. Our biggest competitor is other media forms that are competing for listeners’ attention, such as music streaming services. 

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We also see from our listener surveys that what we are doing works. In general, we have a stable and loyal listener group who are very satisfied with P3’s content. In an attitudes survey from 2023, satisfaction increased by seven percent, to the highest level since 2012. 

Of course, this is incredibly exciting, but we are not satisfied; we want to become even better, and the work to develop the channel continues. We believe and hope that more listeners will discover what they are missing. The slightly older listeners in the group over 35 haven’t really come back to us to the extent we hoped, which we believe partly stems from the need to inform a broader audience about the changes we’ve made. 

Age doesn’t drive listening – content does.  

One of the clearest lessons we took from our analysis was how the audience chooses to consume us; there are different motivations for choosing to listen to the radio or to a podcast. It became clear to us not to define our listeners by age but by interest, so today P3 is a channel not for a specific age group but for listeners interested in music, popular culture, current affairs, and humor regardless of whether they are 15, 35, or 55. 

We try to think of the channel as a “living room” where friends and unexpected guests come and go, and where listeners are invited to join the conversations – with a soundtrack curated by our music experts. The feeling is the same no matter when you listen – even though the audience’s behaviour and needs differ throughout the day, and the channel’s format adapts to this. Our promise to the audience is to be “live, here and now,” so we broadcast live as much as possible.    

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On weekdays, listeners wake up to Morgonpasset i P3, the channel’s flagship program that mixes the day’s major current affairs topics with music, laughter, guests, and a lot of listener interaction. The program is now one of the most listened-to breakfast shows on Swedish radio and one of the morning programs that reaches the most listeners regardless of the media platform. The live show reaches more than 400,000 listeners every day. Hosts David Druid, Linnea Wikblad, and Margret Atladottir discuss today’s hot topics – with segments ranging from the death of Russian politician Navalny or a pathologist’s warnings about Shrove Tuesday to interviews Sweden’s most popular artists such as First Aid Kit or Benjamin Ingrosso. We also see that the podcast version of the show is increasingly popular; recently it reached 150,000 weekly unique listeners and made the top 10 on the official Swedish podcast rankings. 

During the daytime and at weekends we focus on music and music journalism – intertwined with humour, guests, and the latest in popular culture, current affairs, and news with shows transmitted from Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. For example, Eftermiddag i P3, where Christopher Garplind and Hanna Hellquist are the listeners’ “daily guides in the pop culture universe”.  

Another example is Sunday mornings when the music is specially tailored with calmer vibes from various styles so listeners can lean back, relax, and embrace the Sunday feeling. Many of the artists heard here are almost only played by P3 on Swedish radio. How about Dina Ögon, Nina Simone, Deportees, Portishead, Nick Drake, Amanda Bergman, or Sigur Ros, all of whom have been played recently. 

“We are an important part of the Swedish music industry and play more unique songs on P3 every year than any other channel in the country: 15,185 unique tracks during 2023.”

Music for everyone.  

The music we play is a significant change that new or returning listeners will encounter. Our playlist is not P3 is no longer restricted to hits from the past 12 months. However, P3 is still the station that is best at playing new music and new Swedish artists. 

Our knowledgeable hosts, music journalists, and music editors constantly work to offer our listeners the best soundtrack to their daily lives. We are an important part of the Swedish music industry and play more unique songs on P3 every year than any other channel in the country: 15,185 unique tracks during 2023. For comparison, the three largest commercial channels played 811, 2462, and 801 titles respectively during the same period. P3 also holds up well in a Nordic comparison, where our sister channels in public service in Norway and Denmark played 7002 and 4065 unique titles respectively during the same period. We also play the most music from Swedish artists: in 2023, 41.1 percent of the music was Swedish. 

At the same time, about one-third of the music we play today is older but fits the genre-free mix of music that we believe listeners want to hear. Therefore, you will hear emerging artists like Eah Jé, Kerstin Ljungström, Waterbaby, and Yaeger, all of whom were nominated for the Future Artist prize at P3 Guld 2024 (our music awards that have been running for more than 20 years) but also new songs from major Swedish artists like Tove Lo or Thomas Stenström alongside the latest from international stars like SZA and Troye Sivan. 

Gothenburg, Sweden - March 11 2019: Kanalhuset, SVT Swedish television at nught seen from Stenpiren. Credit: Trygve Finkelsen/iStock
Music history is important.  

At the same time, today’s new music wouldn’t exist without our music history. That’s why we highlight older songs, place them in a modern context, and guide towards further listening. It could be music that has gained new life through films or TV series or iconic artists and inspiring songs that have left a mark on popular culture. At P3, we strive to connect the dots between what’s happening now and where it all came from. 

Our presenters, music editors, and music journalists do the job for you if you want to know the latest and how various artists’ works fit into our contemporary world, such as the story behind how Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s hit from 20 years ago, “Murder on the dancefloor,” climbed the charts again thanks to the film Saltburn and TikTok. Presenting music with integrity, knowledge, great generosity, and enthusiasm is one of P3’s most important cultural missions. 

This connection between today’s music and the music of yesterday will be particularly noticeable in 2024 when P3 turns 60. We’ve invited the Swedish music community to create P300, a list of the 300 best songs since P3 first went on air. Together with industry experts, P3 will undertake the gigantic task of listing and ranking the best songs released between 1964-2024 and telling the most interesting, exciting, and unexpected stories about the music we love. 

The P3 brand 

In this text, I mainly write about our linear journey, but the P3 brand is so much broader. We have some of Sweden’s leading podcasts, such as P3 Dokumentär, P3 Historia, and P3 Krim. We have P3 Nyheter, our own multi-media news team, as well as our experts at P3 Musiknyheter, who provide the latest music news on radio and on social media. And our major events complement the radio experience, such as our yearly week-long charity broadcast Musikhjälpen, our annual music gala P3 Guld, live music sessions, and festival broadcasts.1 

So, irrespective of how our listeners choose to listen, in the Swedish Radio Play app, or on the radio at home, at work, or in the car, our ambition is that they will tell their friends about our transformation. We believe and hope that our new (or returning) listeners will appreciate what we offer today.

About the author

Simon Gooch is Head of Music Strategy and Head of Sveriges Radio’s P3.

Our thanks to Mr. Gooch for writing this piece.