BBC holds off challenge of commercial stations

Commercial radio listening figures are up but the BBC stays 10 per cent ahead.

In a controversial set of Rajar figures, which saw some commercial radio chiefs suggesting that the system is stretched to breaking point, commercial radio failed to close the gap on the BBC in the second quarter, despite increasing its total audience.

Some 31.2 million listeners tuned in to commercial stations during the quarter, up 222,000 on the previous quarter, according to the latest Rajar figures.

However, BBC stations attracted 32.9 million listeners, its second-highest quarterly audience ever, which meant that commercial radio's gains equated to only a 0.2 per cent increase in share.

Commercial stations captured 44 per cent of the audience, compared with the BBC's 54 per cent share.

Meanwhile, the battle for London took another twist, as the GCap-owned 95.8 Capital FM recaptured the top spot from Heart 106.2 by maintaining a 6.1 per cent audience share.

Although Capital's audience slipped by 169,000 to 1.9 million, it managed to outperform its main rivals, Heart and Magic 105.4.

The Chrysalis-owned Heart was expected to perform well in the second quarter, following the launch of Jamie Theakston's breakfast show. However, the station lost nearly 200,000 listeners quarter on quarter - its reach fell to 1.7 million and its share of London listening slipped from 7 per cent to 5 per cent. Phil Riley, the chief executive of Chrysalis Radio, Heart's owner, said that the Rajar system encouraged "volatility".

The commercial sector's star performer in London was the talk station LBC, which recorded an audience of 699,000, up 30.2 per cent on the previous quarter.

The national station Classic FM increased it reach by 5.6 per cent quarter on quarter to 6.3 million. TalkSPORT lost 271,000 listeners quarter on quarter in the first Rajars since its parent, The Wireless Group, parted company with Kelvin MacKenzie.

National Virgin Radio remained static.

- All About, page 8

AUDIENCE SHARE OF COMMERCIAL STATIONS Station Share Q2-04 Share Q1-05 Share Q2-05 (%) (%) (%) London 95.8 Capital FM 6.6 6.1 6.1 Magic 105.4 4.6 6.0 5.1 Heart 106.2 6.5 7.0 5.0 Kiss 100 FM 4.7 3.9 4.1 LBC 97.3 3.0 2.0 3.7 Nationals Classic FM 4.5 4.1 4.3 TalkSPORT 1.8 1.9 1.8 Virgin Radio 1.6 1.5 1.5 Source: Rajar.