Commercial radio still fails to match BBC rise

Commercial radio has lost ground to the BBC, according to the Rajar listening figures for the third quarter of 2002.

While the BBC's overall share was unchanged quarter on quarter at 52.6 per cent, commercial radio suffered a 0.2 per cent dip in audience share, and a 1.2 per cent drop year on year.

This is the second quarter in succession that commercial radio has failed to gain ground on the BBC, causing concern among station owners and advertisers alike.

Despite the fall, Michael O'Brien, the Radio Avertising Bureau's director of marketing operations, is positive about the future. He said: "Commercial radio is still listened to by 65 per cent of the population for 478 million hours each week.

"It is particularly strong with younger audiences and dominates the 15- to 24-year-old sector, taking nearly two-thirds of listening, with more than 80 per cent of this age group tuning in each week. So commercial radio is still a mass medium, delivering a mass audience for advertisers."

The year-on-year figures for average hours per listener were down in nearly all sectors. All commercial slipped by 5.1 per cent year on year, with all national commercial experiencing a 7.6 per cent year-on-year decline in average hours per listener to 7.3.

Of the national commercial stations, talkSPORT has overtaken Virgin AM with a weekly reach of 2.4 million - a rise of just under 170,000 year on year. The station, which has benefited from the recent demise of its rival TEAMtalk 252, has seen its share of listening increase by 0.1 per cent year on year to 1.7 per cent. This is in contrast to a poor performance by Virgin AM, which has seen a 0.6 per cent drop in year-on-year listening share, to 1.1 per cent. The other national commercial station, Classic FM, had a good year, growing its weekly reach by more than 240,000 and increasing its listening share by 0.2 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

In London, the big loser was 95.8 Capital FM, whose listening share was down 2.1 per cent year on year. Despite the resurgence of its DJ Tony Blackburn, Capital Gold's listening share also suffered, and is down 0.5 per cent. Both stations were outperformed by their sister station Xfm, which saw its audience share rise by 0.6 per cent, with the breakfast DJ Christian O'Connell gaining an additional 100,000 listeners period on period.

The other good performer in London was Heart 106.2 FM, which improved its audience share by 0.5 per cent to 6.3 and is steadily closing the gap on Capital.

However, the Rajar figures proved disappointing for the Emap radio network, with Kiss 100 down 0.2 per cent to 4.8 per cent year on year, and Magic down 1.1 per cent to 4.0 per cent, despite the station increasing its period-on-period share by 0.5 per cent.

The year-on-year figures for all local commercial stations remained steady, with listening share falling by 0.1 per cent.

RADIO STATIONS RANKED BY SHARE OF LISTENING SEPTEMBER 2002

Share of listening % Share of listening % change

September 2002 September 2001 %

All commercial 45.3 46.5 -1.2

All BBC network 41.4 40.2 +1.2

All local commercial radio 38.7 38.8 -0.1

95.8 Capital FM 8.8 10.9 -2.1

Heart 106.2 6.3 5.8 +0.5

Kiss 100 FM 4.8 5.0 -0.2

Classic FM 4.5 4.3 +0.2

Magic 105.4 4.0 5.1 -1.1

TalkSPORT 1.7 1.6 +0.1

Virgin Radio AM 1.1 1.7 -0.6

Source: Rajar.

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