Capital Radio suffered a major setback yesterday after a controversial audience study judged that its flagship London station had lost its market lead.
The electronic system for measuring radio audiences, compiled by research firm GfK, showed that Capital 95.8 FM had fallen behind rival Heart FM.
The study said 95.8 FM's total listening hours were less than half the last official figure, at 7.4 million hours a week or 17.0 per cent share.
Heart 106.2 recorded 7.7 million hours, 17.6 per cent of the market, for the six months to 14 September. However, Capital 95.8 was still ahead in the total number of weekly listeners.
Rajar, the official audience measuring organisation, uses a "diary" system. It has not reported results for the last three months of this period. Its second quarter figures gave 95.8 FM listening hours of 19.0 million, well ahead of Heart at 14.3 million hours. Capital said it relied on the Rajar figures.
Speech stations fare better under the GfK survey, which is funded by Wireless Group, the company behind radio station talkSPORT.
Kelvin MacKenzie, chief executive of Wireless, hit out at Rajar after it said it would not carry out new trials on electronic methods until the second half of 2004.
"This is a snow job... yet another example of Rajar finding any excuse to delay the inevitable," he said.