Evans trails Radio One audience by five million

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The Independent Online

Chris Evans is Britain's highest paid breakfast show presenter but one of the worst-performing stars in the radio firmament, listening figures revealed yesterday.

Chris Evans is Britain's highest paid breakfast show presenter but one of the worst-performing stars in the radio firmament, listening figures revealed yesterday.

His Virgin Radio show lost 100,000 listeners during the second quarter this year and Evans is trailing miserably behind his rivals, particularly Sara Cox who has taken over the Zoë Ball slot on Radio 1.

Evans achieved an audience of 2 million, against Cox's 7.2 million. Virgin admitted its listening figures were "disappointing", a comment that many in the industry see as an understatement. With Ball's departure, April to June was regarded as Evans' big chance to dig himself out of a hole and turn his audiences around. Instead, he was trounced by Cox.

James Tatum, BBC radio's head of strategy, said: "The Sara Cox show has maintained Zoë's audience both in terms of reach and share."

Reach is the number of people tuning in during the week, share is the total share of the audience and also reflects the number of hours each listener stays. Cox increased the share for the breakfast programme to 11 per cent from 10.4 per cent.

Overall, Virgin Radio's audience figures appear to be almost in freefall. The station lost nearly 400,000 listeners during the quarter, with audiences falling to 2.9 million in the period to June, from 3.3 million in the first quarter. "We are down a little this quarter overall, which is of course disappointing," a spokeswoman for the station said. "But from what we can see this is a reflection of the figures generally, which don't seem particularly positive."

The decline of Evans' performance follows a year of debate over whether the star - now worth an estimated £110m - is past his peak. In March this year, even the television watchdog the Independent Television Commission put forward its view, describing Evans' Channel 4 television show TFI Friday as "no longer the attraction it once was". Since then a Channel 4 axe has been hanging over the show, which has a contract only until the end of this year.

Evans has been sure to keep himself in the spotlight. He had a much hyped "affair" with the former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, a relationship that lasted hours rather than weeks, and coincided with the launch of a Halliwell single. He has also received tabloid attention for a flirtation with the actress Anna Friel.

On his show he gave away £1m in a quiz, and publicly backed Ken Livingstone's candidacy for Mayor of London. The former won him a temporary improvement in listeners, while the latter secured him a record £75,000 fine from the radio authority.

The highlight of his rocky ride was a deal last year to sell his Ginger Group, which includes Virgin Radio, to the Scottish Media Group for £225m, £75m of which went to Evans. At the time, analysts thought the sale price too high. The falling listening figures, they now say, must have SMG desperate for a change of strategy for Virgin Radio.

Overall radio listenership is, despite poor performances by Virgin and long-wave pop station Atlantic 252, at record levels. Audiences have increased by more than 500,000 over the year to 43.6 million.

At the BBC, Radio 1 had a good period, boosting its weekly audience from just over 11 million this time last year to 11.3 million now. Radio 2 continued its resurgence with 10.6 million listeners. Radios 3, 4 and 5 Live were down, with the last-named losing nearly 200,000 listeners.

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