Last week's Rajar radio audience figures were the most eagerly anticipated for years. At last, there was some excitement for advertisers.
The reason was obviously Johnny Vaughan's April arrival in the Capital Radio breakfast show hotseat. The silky, some would say smarmy, middle-aged tones of the Tiswas legend Chris Tarrant were replaced by an altogether more erratic, edgy contender.
Despite Vaughan's recent rating problems with his BBC TV shows, he has won pretty positive reviews for his antics on Capital. "A little bit werrrr, a little bit weyyyyyy", perhaps, but appealing both to middle-aged mums with an eye for a cheeky boy as well as flash lads who spend the cash.
But the audience figures saw Vaughan losing 13 per cent of Capital's breakfast show listeners, bringing him a total of 1.19 million. Its bitter rival, Heart 106.2, added 138,000 listeners to its audience for the Jono and Harriet breakfast show as it closed the gap in total market share to just 0.1per cent behind Capital.
So how worried is Capital about the London market?
Keith Pringle, the managing director of 95.8 Capital FM, says: "We're delighted at the start we've made - to be the number-one breakfast show (in London) with double the number of listeners that Chris Moyles has (on Radio 1) shows how strong we are given the level of competition around us."
But is he disappointed at the loss of so many listeners? "Anybody who has an understanding of radio knows that it takes time to bed in a new show, they know there will be churn as people get used to a new programme.
We could do without the churn but it's in line with what we expected," he says.
"We're absolutely confident that we have the right guy and we're looking forward to the next two or three surveys."
Observers are willing to be charitable to Capital even if the City wasn't (its shares fell 36p to 435p on the day of the Rajar announcement). Tim McCabe, the head of radio at Vizeum, says: "I don't think it's the biggest drama in the world - there's increased competition in London and Capital is building for the future. Vaughan is great, he's a real approachable celebrity and it's good for brands to be around something so entertaining."
Simon Bumfrey, the media director at Barclays Media Team, says: "Most observers and Capital themselves expected fluctuation but not as significant as we've seen. There's been a big shake-up in the morning with people changing channels to find which morning show fits their requirements. It will be another two to three quarters before things settle down and it's too early to say that the breakfast show is poor and that Capital is in trouble."
Heart's total share of the London market rose from 5.8 per cent to 6.5 per cent, buoyed by the figures for the Jono and Harriet show.
But Phil Riley, the chief executive of Chrysalis Radio, puts part of the big change down to large fluctuations in Rajar research: "There's a lot of turbulence because of Tarrant leaving, but aside from that, we got a rogue survey. We've been consistent in delivering a strong product for the past 15 months and we've marketed it well."
Riley believes that Heart has done well but that deficiencies in Rajar's London sample are to blame for its rollercoaster results. Quarter one had Heart with a share well below 6 per cent, which he feels was harsh.
He says that the change at Capital, and the station's ad campaign to support Vaughan's show, has had a wider effect of stimulating listeners to consider their choice of breakfast listening, driving greater numbers into commercial stations.
Virgin, the fifth-largest commercial station in London, also has problems with Rajar, arguing that its sample size of men under 34 is not large enough. It is pleased, however, that Rajar has listened and invested £250,000 in improving its London research.
Lee Roberts, Virgin Radio's sales director, says: "The station's been strong for 18 months but we've had problems with Rajar sampling. On this occasion the research is very helpful for us. We're not attacking Rajar, we just want to make it a better piece of research."
For Virgin, the battle extends beyond the breakfast slot (where Pete and Geoff have a stable London audience of 585,000. Its growth in share from 3 to 3.6 per cent can be attributed to a stronger daytime performance.
But in breakfast are Pete and Geoff doing a good job? "Look at the choice available - Johnny Vaughan is a bit of a boy, Bam Bam (at Kiss 100) is not intellectually challenging but does what he does well. Pete and Geoff have warmth and wit and that's very distinctive in commercial radio. It's not a highbrow listen but is witty, warm and intelligent," Roberts says.
Emap's London stations, Kiss and Magic, both performed well - Kiss 100 increasing its share from 4.2 to 4.7 per cent. Bumfrey believes that these smaller players are having a big impact: "Emap with Kiss and Capital's Xfm are trying to find niche platforms and are finding their own listening base, pulling listeners from the other stations."
And observers seem to agree that Vaughan's arrival is part of a strengthening of competition in the London market. Riley concludes: "We're constantly reviewing everything at breakfast time, we'll be bringing refreshed items out in the autumn and we're constantly raising our game. With everybody slugging it out, it's great for listeners and advertisers."
LONDON COMMERCIAL STATIONS' SHARE OF LISTENING
Station Q2 2003 Q1 2004 Q2 2004
95.8 Capital FM 8.9% 7.9% 6.6%
Heart 106.2 FM 6.7% 5.8% 6.5%
Kiss 100 FM 4.6% 4.2% 4.7%
Magic 105.4 4.4% 4.6% 4.6%
Virgin London 3.1% 3.0% 3.6%
June 230,673 26.28
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, Jan-June 2004.