Amid economic gloom, war and postal strikes, Britain's most serious radio network is experiencing its largest audiences in more than a decade.
Official radio industry figures released yesterday showed improved ratings for all of BBC Radio 4's prime shows, from the Today programme to Woman's Hour and The Archers. The Rajar figures revealed that the Radio 4 audience for July to September was 10.22 million, which is an increase of 8.1 per cent on the corresponding quarter from last year, before the recession took hold.
Today, which has undergone an overhaul with the introduction of new presenters Evan Davis and Justin Webb, remains the network's strongest performing programme with an audience of 6.6 million, which is an increase of 494,000 on the same period last year. In spite of competition from Radio 2's Terry Wogan, who is to retire at the end of this year, and Radio 1's Chris Moyles, who saw his ratings fall by 700,000 listeners from the previous quarter, Today captured 16.8 per cent of the total audience, its highest ever share.
The news that The Archers had recorded an audience of 4.86m, up by 340,000 on the same time last year, coincided with the announcement of the death of Norman Painting, the voice of Phil Archer. Elsewhere in the Radio 4 schedule, the Woman's Hour audience passed 3 million for the first time and the consumer affairs programme You and Yours achieved a record figure of 3.3 million.
The network's controller Mark Damazer attributed the increased audience to both the hunger for serious news and a change in tone on the station.
He praised You and Yours for bringing context to the reporting of the recession and said the presence of former BBC Economics Editor Evan Davis on Today had brought expertise and a change of voice. "He has added a whole angle of vision around economics," he said. "Look at Evan's tone of voice, he has a classic authority, trustworthiness and integrity, but obviously he's slightly different."
Mr Damazer said he hoped the station had "a tone that is more friendly and less forbidding than sometimes, at our weakest, we were", and that it had been able to "put into the schedule splashes of colour that suggest we are capable of doing things people may have thought we were wary of". But he added that "I would rather more 45-year-olds were listening than is currently the case."
*The BBC will cut 100 senior posts and reduce by 25 per cent the total amount it spends on more than 634 managers and nine members of the executive board, including director general Mark Thompson. The savings in pay will be made over the next three and-a-half years, said the BBC Trust.