Capital punishment for GCap as it loses top spot in London

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The Independent Online

GCap, the troubled radio company, heard more bad news yesterday when it lost top spot in the vital London market. Capital 95.8FM, its flagship station, lost listeners in the first three months of the year, something that will concern advertisers and put pressure on Johnny Vaughan, who presents the all-important breakfast show.

The most popular London radio station is now Magic FM, owned by Emap, figures from Rajar, the industry's official body for measuring audiences, showed. It has a 7 per cent market share after a £1m promotional campaign.

Capital lost more than 18 per cent of its listeners in the period, leaving it with 1.7 million people tuning in regularly. Vaughan's show lost 22 per cent of its audience in the last year, leaving it with a weekly reach of 963,000. The early-morning show is the major money-spinner in the industry.

Capital's market share slipped from 5.9 per cent to 5.5 per cent, despite a change in its music policy in January, aiming to make it appeal to a broader section of the population of London by playing fewer chart hits.

Heart FM, owned by Chrysalis, saw its share of the market dip to less than 6 per cent.

GCap has blamed a weak advertising market for its difficulties but admits that a controversial change to its ad policy so that it does not have more than two in a row may lead to a fall in revenue. Given this change, the figures could have been worse.

Malcolm Morgan, an analyst at Investec, said: "The worst fears for GCap weren't realised." Other analysts who follow the stock said the first-quarter figures offered little evidence that the advertising policy is working.

Heart FM took second spot, with Capital now languishing in third. Lorna Tilbian, at Numis Securities, said in a note: "Although we were expecting Magic to overtake Capital, we were not expecting it to become the market leader in London."

The Rajar figures also showed a further gain for the BBC, which has opened up the biggest-ever gap over its commercial rivals, taking a 55.5 per cent share of listeners in the first quarter. Its strong showing is thanks to gaining more listeners at Radio 4 and Radio Five Live, although the audience for Radio 1 fell by more than half a million in the quarter.

Chris Moyles, the self-proclaimed saviour of Radio 1, lost 360,000 listeners in the three months, leaving him with 6.3 million. Listeners also tuned out of Terry Wogan but he remains the most popular breakfast show host with 7.8 million fans.