Digital radio comes of age with millions of listeners

The day of digital radio has dawned in Britain, with official figures showing for the first time that millions of listeners are tuning in to the new stations, often through their computers and television sets.

Statistics published yesterday from Radio Audience Joint Research (Rajar) also showed that in the first three months of this year more people listened to radio as a whole than at any previous time in history.

The figures revealed that 91 per cent of the population tuned in at least once a week and that between them they listened to 1.093 billion hours.

Listenership figures for digital stations had not been published before yesterday. But the figures clearly showed how the renaissance in radio is being fuelled by the growing availability of more than 50 digital stations. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio sets have tumbled in price to £99. The growth in satellite and cable subscribers and the expansion of theinternet have also provided ways of receiving digital stations.

Rajar announced yesterday that Kerrang!, a digital station dedicated to heavy rock, attracted 771,000 listeners a week. Kiss, a London-based urban music station, has added 932,000 listeners outside the capital who access broadcasts digitally. A further 759,000 opted for the digital pop station Smash Hits and 50,000 turned to the speech-based service Oneword, which is dedicated to books and the arts.

The BBC World Service, which had audience figures published for the first time, will have had a large proportion of digital listeners among its weekly reach of 1.36 million.

A spokeswoman for Emap, which owns Kerrang!, Kiss and Smash Hits, said: "The perception was that the digital age was going to take a long time, but it is already upon us."

The Rajar survey disclosed that more than 18 per cent of the public listened to radio via their television sets.

Simon Cole, chief executive of UBC Media, which owns Oneword, said: "It is phenomenal that digital radio has gone from a standing start to an audience of more than a million in just three years.

"People are clearly prepared to change their listening habits when they're presented with something new."

Traditional stations also performed well. BBC Radio 4 attracted more than 10 million listeners over the three months. The Archers recorded an audience of 4.93 million, a new record, and Women's Hour also posted its best figure, 2.86 million.

BBC Radio achieved a record share of 53.5 per cent of the audience in January, February and March this year, reaching 33.27 million listeners.

Nicky Campbell and Victoria Derbyshire continued to attract listeners to the breakfast show on Radio 5 Live, with audience figures up by 50,000 while Jeremy Vine managed to hold on to Sir Jimmy Young's audience at Radio 2.

Jenny Abramsky, the BBC's director of radio and music, said: "Today's figures show that the whole industry goes from strength to strength with more people listening to radio." She highlighted the success of the BBC's Asian Network, which has picked up hundreds of thousands of digital listeners.

The rise of digital radio has been hampered by the difficulty in buying DAB sets. Shops ran out before Christmas, with waiting lists several months long.

Mandy Green, of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, said last night that such problems were over. "The people making these radios in this country are not Sony and Hitachi. They are small, mostly British, entrepreneurial manufacturers. The orders placed at Christmas are now coming through."

Winners from new technology

Oneword: A speech station focusing on books, drama, comedy and discussion, owned by the UK's largest independent radio producer, UBC Media Group, and the Guardian Media Group, has recorded a weekly audience of 50,000 and a total of 140,000 listening hours a week.

Kerrang!: Rock-based station inspired by the magazine of the same name and owned by Emap. Claims to offer the soundtrack for the "life is loud generation" and features such artists as the Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson and Sum 41. Attracting 771,000 listeners a week.

Smash Hits: Emap-owned pop music station linked to the magazine aimed at teenagers. Pulling 759,000 listeners a week.

BBC World Service: Figures published for the first time show a higher than expected audience in the UK for the World Service, which attracts 1.3 million listeners a week, many of them tuning in through digital platforms.