New DJs fail to halt Radio 1 slide: Audience now 3.5 million down on same time last year

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The Independent Online
THE BBC's controversial decision to axe many of its most famous Radio 1 broadcasters for a young generation of disc jockeys and an assortment of news, comedy and religious programmes, has led to a decline in audience figures.

Radio 1's controller, Matthew Bannister, parted company with a number of well-known names, including Simon Bates, Dave Lee Travis, Bob Harris and Gary Davies. He said recently that the comedy DJs Smashy and Nicey in the Harry Enfield Television Programme were worryingly close to some former Radio 1 broadcasters.

However, figures released yesterday show that listeners have not warmed to the newer, younger presenters. The station's audience, with 12.3 million adults (and, according to the BBC, a further 2 million under 15) is 3.5 million down on the same time last year.

Simon Bates, during his show on LBC's Newstalk yesterday, called for the resignations of Liz Forgan, managing director of BBC Radio, and Mr Bannister because of the station's listening slump. The quarterly analysis of radio listening figures by RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd) for the second quarter of this year, also shows that Radio 3 has lost listeners, but Radio 5 Live, the news and sport station launched earlier this year, has made an impressive start.

Ms Forgan said that she expected to see a 'continued slow- down in the rate of decline' in the Radio 1 audience. She added that the 360,000 decline in Radio 3's audience was both 'disappointing and puzzling,' but the 4.5 million adults listening to Radio 5 Live, had made it a 'triumphant launch' for the new station. It was attracting more listeners than the old Radio 5.

The BBC also stressed that the network's audience profile complemented Radio 4's Home Counties-biased listenership. Nearly two-thirds of the newcomer's audience live north of Watford and more than half are under 45.

Radio 4's audience had remained constant, with 8.5 million listeners a week. Gardeners' Question Time on Radio 4 was attracting three times as many listeners as its rival programme (with the old BBC panel) on Classic FM.

Commercial radio continues to thrive, with 500,000 new listeners in the second quarter of the year, and, for the first time, its total listenership (27.8 million) is only 1 million behind the total for BBC Radio. This time last year the gap was nearly 6 million.

The three most popular commercial radio stations are Atlantic 252 (a pop music station based in Dublin and broadcasting to all of the UK apart from London), with 3.7 per cent of all listening hours and 4.2 million listeners a week; Virgin Radio (3.2 per cent, 3.4 million); and Classic FM, (2.8 per cent, 4.6 million), now account for nearly 10 per cent of all radio listening.

The Radio Advertising Bureau predicted that a burgeoning 'commercial radio generation' would continue to eat into the BBC's audience share. It claimed that, in three months, the commercial sector would have the same number of listeners as BBC stations, for the first time.

There are now nearly 140 commercial radio stations in the UK, compared with just 60 in 1988. More are scheduled to open later this year. But for both the BBC and commercial radio the future may not be entirely rosy. The figures show that 31 per cent of all children aged 4 to 14 do not listen to radio at all.

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