Ball fights off the Evans threat as Radio 4 audience hits new low

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The Independent Online
CHRIS EVANS'S burgeoning media empire suffered its first setback yesterday when it was revealed that his breakfast radio show lost 336,000 listeners in three months, according to the latest Radio Joint Audience Research figures. On top of the loss for his own show, the Virgin station owned by Evans lost 300,000 listeners a week.

There was also bad news for the BBC as it confirmed that Radio 4 had lost an average 500,000 listeners and the audience for the Today programme had dropped by 600,000 to 4.6 million listeners.

In London, where competition for breakfast show listeners is fiercest, Evans has done a listener swap with his Radio 1 rival Zoe Ball. Ball added 133,000 listeners in London while Evans lost 111,000 in the capital. Across the country, Ball's show added 60,000 listeners taking it to 4.52 million.

Virgin's chief executive John Pearson said yesterday: "We are still 30 per cent up year-on-year and we knew that after a year of stupendous increases we would see the balance redress to the BBC."

The tussle for listeners in the capital saw Chris Tarrant on Capital add 16,000 listeners, keeping him at the number one slot with 1.8 million listeners. Heart FM's Jono Coleman, who was replaced by Evans at Virgin, lost 101,000.

The figures for the Radio 1 breakfast show released yesterday cover the period when Zoe Ball shared the show with Kevin Greening. Figures are to be seen for her hosting the show on her own.

The competition between the BBC and Virgin led to the two companies accusing each other of lying yesterday. According to the BBC's interpretation of the Rajar figures Virgin's breakfast show lost 540,000 listeners.

Virgin for its part maintains that the BBC massages its figures by including listeners as young as five years old.

The problem is caused by the stations being allowed to release figures for individual programmes selectively and that they can massage them to suit their PR needs.

Radio 1 as a whole increased its listening through the summer by an average of 400,000 listeners a week, taking it up to 9.7 million listeners. The BBC's outgoing controller of radio, Matthew Bannister, attributes the growth to the network concentrating on live music: "Events like Glastonbury and the Live from Ibiza weekend created excitement about radio and led to a substantial increase in its audience. It is the station's highest share for two years."

Overall, the BBC had a good set of Rajar figures, with all stations except Radio 4 increasing its audience.

As forecast, Radio 4 lost 500,000 listeners compared with three months ago and lost 600,000 against the same period last year. The station has hit a low of 7.7 million listeners a week and its controller, James Boyle, said the drop was caused by a number of factors, just one of which was new schedule of programmes introduced in April. "It is disappointing, but we are playing a long game and we are only half way through the commissioning period for the first year of programmes."

Like Virgin, Radio 4 claimed the three weeks of the World Cup figures included in the research period affected its figures. Much of the station's loss was also caused by a drop in listening to topical discussion programmes and news shows.

BBC Radio 5 Live, award-winning station of the year, had its best third- quarter period since launch. The station attracted 5 million listeners, up 100,000 on the year before but down on the quarter before. News stations traditionally have a weak period in the summer, but the World Cup worked to the station's advantage this time. The Radio 5 Live breakfast news programme added 100,000 listeners compared to the year before, giving it 1.78 million

Leading article,

Review, page 3

RADIO TWO

TERRY WOGAN: Thanks to the publicity generated by Zoe Ball and Chris Evans it is often forgotten that the country's biggest breakfast show is the twinkling Irishman's. His return to radio has been a success and his show gets 5.1m listeners.

VIRGIN RADIO

CHRIS EVANS: After a year of rising audiences at Virgin the Ginger one looks to have peaked. Latest figures show his audience in the morning dropping by 336,000 to 2.2m. However, he took his holidays during the research period and his audience collapses when he is away.

CAPITAL RADIO

CHRIS TARRANT: Still London's biggest wake up call with 1.8m listeners. Motors along as the BBC and Virgin spend their time targeting each other. Tarrant added just 16,000 in the summer, but given the competition, this has to be a victory.

RADIO FOUR

TODAY: Much criticised of late, but still a serious agenda-setter. Lost 600,000 in the last three months, falling to 4.6m. The BBC blames a political news drought in the summer. Critics claim it is being stretched out in the new schedule and losing its way towards the end.

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