Ratings for 'nation's favourite' Radio 1 hit new low

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The Independent Online

The audience for BBC Radio One, which once boasted of being "the nation's favourite", has slumped to less than 10 million listeners for the first time.

The disastrous figures, released yesterday by Rajar, the radio industry's monitoring body, were described by the BBC as "poor" and raise questions about the futures of star DJs such as the breakfast show presenter Sara Cox and Chart Show host Wes Butters.

Cox, who is known for her brash "ladette" style, haemorrhaged 500,000 listeners over the three months to June, leaving her with a weekly audience of 5.4 million over 15 and 6.6 million over the age of four.

The station's breakfast show once offered the most high-profile presenting role in British radio. It peaked with an audience of 15 million in the early 1980s with Dave Lee Travis at the microphone. Nowhere is its demise more apparent than in London, where Cox's programme is rated the seventh most popular show.

Radio One's breakfast show is not only trashed in London by the Today programme on Radio 4, but by Chris Tarrant's show on Capital Radio, Terry Wogan's on Radio Two, Heart FM, Kiss FM and Classic FM.

With only 554,000 listeners in the capital, Cox is now even in the shadow of Magic 105.4 FM's Graham Dene, who cut his DJ teeth broadcasting on the United Biscuits Network, a factory production line, and now draws 646,000 devotees.

But Radio One's problems extend across the country. Rajar said the station's weekly audience was down to 9.87 million, compared to 10.5 million at the same time last year.

Radio One is trying to fight off increasingly intense competition - including from rival new digital stations like Smash Hits Radio and Kerrang! - while at the same time trying to fulfil a public-service remit that requires it to break in fresh British musical talent.

Cox's contract to present the breakfast show ends in April but she then has a further two years' work with the station that could see her switched to another time in the schedule.

The Chart Show presenter "Wes" was headhunted by the BBC from local radio and handed the poisoned chalice of a programme based on Britain's almost defunct singles market. In the three months to June, the show lost a further 400,000 listeners and is left with an audience of 2.1 million.

Across its portfolio, the BBC lost 1.3 million listeners during the three months. Jo Hamilton, BBC Radio's research manager, called it a "quarter of misfortunes", after the record audience figures of more than 33 million posted in March.

Classic FM has had an increase in young listeners, many requesting soothing music to help them relax when doing revision. Mozart was the most requested composer.

THE DIFFERENCE 20 YEARS MAKES

DAVE LEE - TRAVIS RADIO 1 BREAKFAST SHOW, 1978-1983

Known as: "The Hairy Cornflake"

Catchphrase: "Quack, Quack Oops!"

Career high: 15 million listeners during the early Eighties, when he was the king of the airwaves.

Lasting achievement: Brought snooker and darts games to radio.

Low point: Partly inspired Harry Enfield's grumpy spoof DJ Dave Nice. He resigned on air before he could be forced out by BBC modernisers.

He says: "I have to sit patiently and wait until the time comes when I can get my own radio station and say, 'F*** the lot of you, I'm now going to show you how to do it.' "

Future prospects: Mostly works for BBC Three Counties Radio.

SARA COX RADIO 1 BREAKFAST SHOW, 2000-

Known as: "Coxy"

Catchphrase: "Textety Text!"

Career high: 5.4 million listeners and falling.

Lasting achievement: Bingo Bango. "Eyes down, look in, grab your dobber. It's the first to get a line after nine."

Low point: Being photographed naked on her honeymoon by a paparazzo, provoking a bitter legal battle with The People newspaper, which published the pictures.

She says: "Smelt of wee". A less than flattering Coxy description of the Queen Mother, for which the presenter was severely rebuked.

Future prospects: Contract comes up for consideration in April.

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