Five Live blames 'dud summer' for bad ratings

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The Independent Online

Radio Five Live, the BBC station specialising in sports and news, has suffered a fall in its audience to the lowest level for seven years.

BBC Radio 4 also saw its listener numbers drop between July and September, the latest radio listening figures from industry body Rajar have revealed.

In the three-month period, Five Live's weekly audience slumped 4.5 per cent year on year to 5.48 million. Even when its digital sister station Five Live Sports Extra is included, listener numbers fell by 3.8 per cent to 5.65 million.

Five Live's audience has fallen from a peak of 6.7 million listeners in 2002, when it recorded three consecutive quarters with more than 6 million listeners. Its audience has not broken back through the 6 million barrier since June 2006.

The station blamed its poor performance on the lack of major sporting events and the bad weather this summer. A spokesman said: "It was a disappointing summer of sport for the station. Wimbledon normally drives a lot of audience. That was diminished with a lack of British interest – Andy Murray was injured and Tim Henman went out early on – and it was quite disrupted by rain, which doesn't help people's interest.

He added: "We're comparing it against a quarter a year ago where we were in the final throes of the World Cup, the biggest sporting competition in the world. The cricket summer was not particularly inspiring either. It has not been a vintage quarter."

Rival commercial sports station Talksport saw its audience grow by 2 per cent year on year to reach 2.3 million adults a week in the first ratings since it began broadcasting live commentary of Premiership games.

Over the same period, Radio 4 lost more than 200,000 listeners. The audience dropped by 2.2 per cent, compared to the previous year, to 9.2 million. The BBC also attributed this decline to outside influences. A spokeswoman said there had been a lack of big news stories over the summer and insisted "one quarter doesn't make a trend".

Radio 3 recovered from a earlier this year, adding 150,000 listeners and boosting its audience to 1.9 million.