National commercial radio increases share

National commercial radio had a strong second quarter as its share of listening rose to more than 10 per cent.

The launch of several national digital channels and a rise in talkSPORT's share of listening helped boost national commercial radio, according to the Rajar figures for the second quarter.

TalkSPORT grew its share of listening hours from 1.6 per cent to 1.8 per cent, but still has fewer listeners than Virgin, which added 150,000 listeners to give it an audience of 2.6 million compared with talkSPORT's 2.16 million. Virgin's share of the London market grew to 20 per cent.

While Virgin maintained the same national share on the back of an increased audience, Classic FM, which has the largest share of any national commercial station, held the top spot despite a fall in its audience to 6.49 million.

Despite its increase in share, talkSPORT's chief executive, Kelvin MacKenzie, continued to criticise the Rajar system, calling it archaic and arguing: "It underestimates our audience to a ludicrous extent."

National commercial radio's share also benefited from several digital stations launching in the past year. However, local commercial stations were hit by a fall in share of listening despite a scramble for listeners in the London market after Johnny Vaughan arrived at 95.8 Capital FM.

Vaughan, who joined the station in April, suffered a fall in his audience of 13 per cent to 1.19 million compared with the first quarter when Chris Tarrant still hosted the show.

Capital's performance in London caused some concern among analysts as its share of London listening dropped from 7.9 per cent to 6.6 per cent.

Heart 106.5 FM seems to be the chief beneficiary, increasing its share of the London market from 5.8 per cent to 6.5 per cent. However, its share is still down on the 6.7 per cent it held a year ago.

Lorna Tilbian, an analyst at Numis Securities, said: "There can be no hiding the disappointing performance from 95.8 FM in London. Quarter two was not a normal quarter, with three different presenters in the period and heavy marketing from competitors. Nevertheless, a decline in share to 6.6 per cent in quarter two is below our worst expectations."

Keith Pringle, the managing director of 95.8 FM Capital, defended Vaughan and the station's performance. "Over the past year we have established a clear strategy to focus on 25- to 44-year-olds. Once we have got through this period of churn, we'll be in a very good position."

- Spotlight, p16.

RADIO STATIONS RANKED BY SHARE OF LISTENING JUNE 2004

Share of Share of

listening % listening % Change %

June 2004 June 2003 year on year

All BBC 53.1 53.0 0.1

All commercial 44.9 45.0 -0.1

All local commercial 34.9 37.2 -2.3

All national commercial 10.1 8.4 1.7

National commercial stations

Classic FM 4.5 4.5 -

TalkSPORT 1.8 1.6 0.2

Virgin Radio (AM) 1.6 1.6 -

Source: Rajar.

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