Radio 4 discovers its `lost' audience found

RADIO 4 has seen its audience leap an extra 1.5m listeners a week thanks to a more accurate type of listener research.

Rajar, the radio industry's audience measurement system, has been overhauled and the key beneficiary is Radio 4, a network badly buffeted by fluctuating audiences last year when its schedule was re-launched. The station's weekly audience has risen from just under 8 million a week at the end of 1998 to 9.5 million in the first three months of this year.

Under the new measurement system listeners no longer fill in diaries for a whole household's listening. Instead they keep diaries of just their own habits. It is thought that listeners of Radio 4 and other big stations, including Classic FM and Virgin, were being "lost" under the old measurement system because they were tuning in together.

The new study also shows that Radio 4's Today programme, which has been criticised since it became longer in April last year, has captured the biggest share of morning listeners. The new figures put Today's share of the morning audience at 15 per cent, which is one percentage point above the 14 per cent who tune into Terry Wogan on Radio 2. Zoe Ball on Radio 1 has 9.8 per cent of the morning audience.

Today is also the biggest breakfast show in pure listener numbers: over 6 million people tune in every week, compared with 5.5 million for Terry Wogan and for Zoe Ball on Radio 1. Chris Evans' Virgin Radio show, which is weak across the country but strong in London, gets 2.7 million listeners in the mornings, up 380,000 on the previous period. Radio 5 Live's breakfast show, which won the Sony breakfast show award this year, gets 2 million listeners. In all, the BBC takes 44 per cent of the nation's listeners in the morning.

Every part of Radio 4's schedule has done well in the research, but the afternoon dramas are particularly healthy. Over 2 million people tune in to some dramas - a higher figure than the television audience for many of the dramas on BBC 2 and Channel 4.

John Peel's multi-award winning Home Truths programme on Saturday mornings has doubled its audience to 1.9 million in under a year and takes a 12 per cent share of the radio audience on Saturday mornings.

Jenny Abramski, the BBC's director of radio, said yesterday that she was unable to compare listening figures from the period before the methodology changed, but she said the new system showed the strength of radio. "I am pleased that the new methodology has confirmed what we've always believed - that radio listening is extremely healthy in this country and is essential to people's lives. Over 89 per cent of the population listens each week, a total of 46.2 million people, and I am delighted that the BBC accounts for half of that success."

Commercial channels that did well in the new survey include Classic FM, which increased its weekly audience to 6 million from 5.1 million, and Virgin, which had its highest number of listeners with 4.6 million tuning in a week.

The Listeners

Weekly Audience Breakfast Show

Radio 1 10.8m 5.5m

Radio 2 9.7m 5.5m

Radio 4 9.5m 6.2m

Classic FM 6m 2.9m

Radio 5 Live 5.8m 2m

Virgin Radio 4.6m 2.7m

Capital Radio 2.9m 2m

Talk Radio 2.3m 0.75m