Wogan helps Radio 2 win record listening figures

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The Independent Online

Radio 2 - dismissed for years as the unfashionable home of easy listening - continues to consolidate its position as Britain's favourite station.

A combination of familiar voices, big personalities and classic popular music has helped it achieve its highest share of the radio audience, rising to a record 16.4 per cent in the final quarter of 2004.

According to the latest listening figures from Rajar, Radio 2 increased its weekly audience by 245,000 in the three months to December 2004 compared with the previous quarter, and 154,000 year-on-year, giving it a weekly audience of 13.3 million.

Terry Wogan's breakfast show - number one in the country - recorded its highest weekly reach of more than 8 million listeners, an increase of 410,000 on the previous quarter and 160,000 more year on year. Wogan said: "Hang on, there's 60 million people in the country; what are the other 52 million listening to?"

Jenny Abramsky, BBC director of radio and music, described Wogan's figures as "simply awesome".

The early-morning host Sarah Kennedy, who like Wogan grew to prominence on Radio 2 in the 1970s, gained 140,000 listeners year on year. Ken Bruce, who replaced Wogan on the breakfast show in 1987 - when the Irishman took time out to concentrate on his television career - and now presents the mid-morning slot, put on 120,000 listeners. Johnnie Walker, presenter of the drive-time show, boosted his weekly reach by 170,000 compared with the last quarter of 2003.

Lesley Douglas, who took over from Jim Moir as controller a year ago, believes the success stems from its vastly experienced presenters and the creative freedom they are given. Unlike most other stations, Radio 2 does not "music test" - researching the tracks its audience likes and then playing them repeatedly. Presenters and producers are given a free hand.

Ms Douglas said: "We have the most interesting and opinionated line-up of presenters anywhere on television or radio. We never music test. It's down to the taste and experience of the presenters and the production team, so they can take risks in the way that other people can't.If you've got Steve Wright, Johnnie Walker and Jonathan Ross - with the breadth of experience they've got you can go with their instincts. If they are enjoying themselves, the audience are enjoying themselves."

While Ms Douglas agreed that Radio 2 has become more "credible" in recent years - it overtook Radio 1 to become the most-listened to national radio station in 2002 - she insists that this is down to an increase in confidence rather than a change of character. The renewed popularity of rock music has also provided a boost.

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