'Woman's Hour' discovers a new audience: men

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The Independent Online

Sixty years after it was launched to encourage women to rebuild a home life after the Second World War, Woman's Hour is more popular than ever - and an increasing number of its audience are men.

The Radio 4 programme, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in October, recorded its highest audience share in the last three months of 2005.

Interviews with the Tory leadership candidates David Cameron and David Davis helped the radio show to win 8.3 per cent of all available listeners for its 10am to 11am slot, up from 7.5 per cent in the same period in 2004 - an audience of 2.71 million - according to the latest listening figures from the official monitoring body, Rajar.

Giving the lie to its gender-specific name, 40 per cent of Woman's Hour listeners are men. The show's format of serious investigations, light-hearted discussions, fashion and cookery tips is a far cry from the first Woman's Hour - presented by a man - which advised listeners to cook herring for lunch in the era of bread rationing and told them how to look nice while scrubbing the floor.

The regular presenters, Jenni Murray and Martha Kearney, both experienced journalists with impressive track records in politics and current affairs, provide a mix of the high-minded with more earthy material. When Ms Kearney grilled Mr Cameron and Mr Davis in November, she asked them if they preferred blondes or brunettes and if they wore boxer shorts or briefs. (For the curious, Mr Cameron opted for boxers while his, subsequently unsuccessful, rival went for briefs.)

The Woman's Hour editor, Jill Burridge, believes the increase in audience share is down to the programme's broad appeal: "People are realising that it's not a programme that excludes men. It's very inclusive in its debate, which ranges across subjects from parenting to fertility and work/life balance. Those appeal across the audience range, whether it's grandparents or the younger audience.

"A lot of women probably listen for the first time when they are on maternity leave. We also have a lot of students who listen. Our profile audience is in their mid-50s. The image of women of that generation is vastly different from their mothers. They are not inactive, they are interested in things, they are an inquiring, challenging generation," Ms Burridge said.

Jane Anderson, the radio editor of Radio Times said: "Three or four years ago I probably wouldn't have chosen to tune into Woman's Hour, because my perception was that it was very old-fashioned and middle-England. That's completely changed. I've heard them travelling up to Manchester and talking to teenagers about binge-drinking. They are not dumbing down, but there's very clever commissioning of stories. There's no shame in being a younger, smart woman and tuning in to Woman's Hour."

Another Radio 4 show, Desert Island Discs, also achieved a record audience share for its Friday edition in the final quarter of 2005, thanks to a roster of high-profile interviewees, including Colin Firth, Mario Testino, Kelly Holmes and Boris Johnson. The former editor of The Spectator used the programme to announce that he was prepared to give up journalism to serve under David Cameron.

Radio 1's breakfast DJ, Chris Moyles, continued his upward trajectory, adding 370,000 listeners over the year, taking his weekly audience to 6.66 million.

Terry Wogan, Radio 2's breakfast stalwart, also increased his audience by 300,000 compared to the previous quarter, to just under 8 million listeners a week, while the first figures for Chris Evans' Saturday afternoon show on Radio 2 revealed that he has won a respectable weekly audience of 1.5 million.

In the commercial radio sector, talkSPORT increased its weekly audience by 9.2 per cent to 2.2m year on year. In London, the intense rivalry between Capital and Heart continued, with Capital claiming more listeners, but Heart coming out on top in terms of market share.