BBC increases lead on rival commercial radio

Commercial radio lost ground to the BBC in the build-up to the second Gulf War, according to Rajar listening figures for the first quarter of 2003.

The sector's audience share dropped by 1 per cent as the BBC's talk-based stations Radio 4 and Radio Five Live proved the favourite choice for listeners for war news.

The first quarter of this year is the first period in which audience figures for digital radio stations have been recorded. Emap's Kerrang!

and Smash Hits stations pulled in an average of 771,000 and 759,000 listeners respectively, while Kiss FM attracted 961,000 digital listeners a week. Although Kiss's analogue audience was down, its combined national audience has grown to 2.4 million.

The battle for London between 95.8 Capital FM and its nearest rival, Heart 106.2, intensified. Capital FM, which recently poached the breakfast show presenter Emma Forbes from Heart, failed to halt its steady decline, posting audience share figures of 8.1 per cent, down from 10 per cent year on year and 8.8 per cent period on period.

Once again, Heart 106.2 took advantage of this slip, recording an audience share of 6.2 per cent, a rise of 0.2 per cent year on year and period on period. However, Heart was the only mainstream station to perform well: Emap's Magic 105.4 suffered a 0.7 per cent year-on-year drop.

The Capital Network's star performer, Xfm, saw its audience share unchanged from the last quarter, although at 1.7 per cent, this is still up 0.6 per cent from the first quarter in 2002.

The national talkSPORT and Classic FM stations boasted audience share of 1.7 and 4.6 per cent respectively, unchanged from this time last year.

Virgin AM continued to slide. However, despite posting a drop in audience share of 0.2 per cent year on year, the London FM station gained 3,000 new listeners.

Chrysalis' decision to buy LBC and give it a London licence was rewarded as the station increased its weekly reach to 441,000 - up from 384,000 last year.

The other strong performer in the first quarter of this year was Jazz FM. The specialist station significantly boosted its audience share year on year from 1.9 to 2.2 per cent.

Michael O'Brien, the director of marketing operations at the Radio Advertising Bureau, said: "This quarter's Rajar results help highlight the growing popularity of new listening platforms, with continued growth in the number of listeners who tune in via their TV or online. Furthermore, for the first time we have audience figures for national digital-only stations - a very positive sign for digital radio."

RADIO STATIONS RANKED BY SHARE OF LISTENING MARCH 2003

Share of Share of

listening % listening % change

March 2003 March 2002 %

All BBC network 53.5 52.6 +0.9

All commercial 44.5 45.5 -1.0

All local commercial radio 36.6 37.7 -1.1

95.8 Capital FM 8.1 10.0 -1.9

Heart 106.2 6.2 6.0 +0.2

Classic FM 4.6 4.6 0.0

Kiss 100 FM 4.1 4.8 -0.7

Magic 105.4 3.6 4.3 -0.7

Jazz FM (London) 2.2 1.9 +0.3

TalkSPORT 1.7 1.7 0.0

104.9 Xfm 1.7 1.1 +0.6

Virgin Radio AM 1.1 1.3 -0.2

Source: Rajar.

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