Heart beats them all to rule London's air waves by wooing women listeners

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The Independent Online

An upbeat playlist of 1980s classics and contemporary hits for thirty-something women has propelled Heart 106.2 FM to the number one London commercial radio station.

An upbeat playlist of 1980s classics and contemporary hits for thirty-something women has propelled Heart 106.2 FM to the number one London commercial radio station.

Listening figures show Heart has come from third place in the competitive London market to overtake easy-listening station Magic 105.4 FM and oust 95.8 Capital FM from the top spot.

In the first three months of the year, Londoners tuned into Heart for a total of 15.6million hours a week, a 39 per cent increase on the previous quarter and nearly two million hours ahead of its closest competitors, says the radio measurement body Rajar.

Heart now enjoys a 7 per cent share of the London market, compared to Capital's 6.1 per cent and Magic's 6 per cent. Capital has more listeners - 2.1 million a week compared to Heart's 1.8 million - but people listen to Heart longer and in commercial radio the hours matter.

The ratings boost will be a relief to the station, whose owner Chrysalis was forced to issue its third profit warning in five months in January when it slipped to third place in the capital behind Magic. In a bid to resuscitate listening figures, Heart axed its long-standing breakfast show host Jono Coleman this year to clear the decks for TV presenter Jamie Theakston.

On 16 May, the station is launching its biggest promotional push, spending £2m on a marketing campaign to establish Theakston as a radio presenter.

The station, which briefly overtook Capital to number one position in autumn 2003, but failed to hang on to the slot, has overhauled its line-up of presenters and refreshed its musical policy. Veteran DJs such as David "Kid" Jensen have been replaced with thirty-something presenters including Toby Anstiss and BBC Holiday presenter Nick Snaith. Heart's playlist covers 1980s classics to contemporary hits by the likes of Destiny's Child, Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake. Phil Riley, chief executive of Chrysalis, said: "What we've been doing over the past nine months is a refresh-and-renew policy on the brand. That has obviously paid off. We have got our noses in front, but this is one of those races that never has an ending."

Adrian Young, head of Barclays's media team, said: "Heart's leap into the number one position in London reflects the significant efforts made by Chrysalis to improve the Heart offering, but don't think this is likely to be a decisive moment in the battle for the London market. London remains a closely fought battle, with no clear winner."

Heart's success will come as a blow to Capital, ahead of its merger with GWR next week to form Gcap Media, which will inherit 17 million listeners. The group can find consolation in Johnny Vaughan, who replaced Chris Tarrant as Capital's breakfast show host last year. Vaughan added more than 100,000 listeners in the first quarter and now has an audience of 1.2 million.

The winners

Heart 106.2

A new lineup of thirty-something presenters and a mix of hits from the 1980s to the present has helped Heart to reclaim the title of the capital's number one radio station with nearly two million more listening hours than its rivals.

Radio 2

The behemoth that is Radio 2 continued to grow in the first quarter. The station commands 16.5 per cent of the total UK radio audience, with Terry Wogan, Ken Bruce, Jeremy Vine, Steve Wright and Johnnie Walker achieving record listening figures.

TalkSport

The speech radio station boosted its listeners by an impressive 24 per cent to nearly 2.5million in the first quarter of the year, pushing ahead of music station Virgin's combined AM and FM audience.

The losers

95.8 Capital

Capital has been knocked off its perch as London's number one commercial radio station in total hours, but still has more listeners overall, and Johnny Vaughan's breakfast show is on a winning streak.

Radio 3

Audiences for Radio 3 and Classic FM declined in the first three months of the year. Radio 3 lost 112,000 listeners in the quarter, and 302,000 year on year, and its commercial rival was down 8.7 per cent from the previous year.

Radio 4

The BBC's flagship talk radio station lost 144,000 listeners in the first quarter, which it attributes to pre-election fatigue and people switching to the cricket. Its audience remains strong and considerably higher than pre-9/11.

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