Brand helps BBC's 6 Music bring in thousands of new listeners

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The Independent Online

He may have been shown the door by more employers than most but yesterday the anarchic presenter Russell Brand was being fêted as a roaring success by the radio industry.

The latest listening figures show that the BBC's digital station 6 Music enjoyed a 40 per cent increase, from 285,000 to a record 400,000, between June and September.

And the station credited the leap in audience to the former drug addict and celebrated hell-raiser, who joined 6 Music in March to host a headline-grabbing Sunday morning show.

"It has been good for digital radio to have a star like Russell presenting on 6 Music. He really is at the top of his form," said Lesley Douglas, controller of 6 Music and Radio 2.

For a man who once insisted that he was "sculpted by failure", yesterday's figures certainly sealed a triumphant comeback.

A legendary womaniser, who had a fling with Kate Moss and estimates his sexual conquests at 2,000, the 31-year-old was sacked from his job at MTV in 2001 for turning up for work the day after the September 11 attacks dressed as Osama bin Laden. Xfm later let him go because he read out pornographic letters on air.

But after drug rehabilitation treatment four years ago, the television and radio work returned. He found mainstream fame as the host of Big Brother's Big Mouth on E4 and landed his own show, Russell Brand's Got Issues.

A flamboyant dresser, whose fashion sense has been described as midway between a Victorian pimp and a sadomasochistic Willy Wonka, Brand has always courted controversy and divided opinion.

His new show is no different. While one critic described him as sounding "exactly like Ricky Gervais's David Brent if he had a few years and a few IQ points lopped off", others have praised him for being a "wickedly funny" and an "original talent".

The audience figures for the third quarter of 2006 were released yesterday by industry body Rajar. With 89 per cent of the population still tuning in to the radio, the number has dropped marginally to 44.4 million listeners in the last quarter though the total hours people spend tuned in has increased to 1.063 million.

While the BBC still retains its lead the latest Rajar results see commercial radio clawing back its share for the second successive quarter to take 43.6 per cent of the market.

The big boost came for digital-only stations, which enjoyed record figures. Listening via the internet is up 13 per cent and via digital television up by 10 per cent while 7.1 per cent of the UK adult population use their mobile phone to follow their favourite programmes.

Other notable successes among DJs included Radio 2's Chris Evans. A controversial replacement for the much-loved Johnnie Walker in the station's drivetime slot in April, he suffered an initial dip in ratings but the latest figures show that he now has an audience of 4.9 million - 100,000 up on last year when Walker was the presenter.

"I'm really pleased that Chris has fitted in at Radio 2. He's a great personality, great broadcaster and I always hoped he would appeal to the Radio 2 audience," said Mr Douglas.

Overall, Radio 2's audience for the last quarter was 12.75 million, making it still the nation's most listened-to station while the country's best known radio veteran, Sir Terry Wogan, still holds claim to the most popular morning show with weekly audiences of more than 7.6 million.

Radio 1 saw a rise of 250,000 listeners to 10.58 million in the past year while Breakfast DJ Chris Moyles continued to increase his audience to 6.81 million.

Radio 4's audience also rose over the past three months to 9.47 million with its flagship programme Today drawing in an audience of 6.13 million listeners.

In London, Capital Radio lost almost one fifth of its audience, with Johnny Vaughan's breakfast show recording its lowest-ever audience. Rival breakfast host Jamie Theakston's Heart FM show has overtaken Vaughan in terms of audience share, although the Capital show remains London's number one commercial radio choice at breakfast in terms of reach (the number of people tuning in for at least 15 minutes a week).