Radio 1 loses more listeners: Commercial audience now rivals BBC

RADIO 1 lost a further 1.1 million listeners during the first three months of this year, taking its share to 14.7 per cent of the total audience.

It is still Britain's most popular channel, but Radio 2, the only BBC network to grow in popularity, is now closing the gap, with a 13.4 per cent share.

Radio 1's shrinking share compares with 21 per cent a year ago and 17.1 per cent in the last quarter of 1993. It now attracts 13.2 million people every week, three million less than a year ago when it had 16.1 million. The figures were published yesterday by Rajar, the radio industry's joint audience research body.

Matthew Bannister, controller of Radio 1, said yesterday that the position was now stabilising, with the rate of decline lessening. He noted that the network had been in long- term decline before he took over and introduced new disc jockeys and a new music policy last autumn aimed at attracting younger listeners. His schedule, which came into full force in January, was delivering a fast-growing audience for Steve Wright, the breakfast show presenter.

Radio 4, which is also undergoing a controversial regeneration, lost about 400,000 listeners during the first three months of the year and has a 10.6 per cent share, compared with 11.6 per cent last year.

The figures show a strong advance by commercial radio, aided by the launch of 13 stations in the past year. It accounted for 45 per cent of all radio listening, up from 37.4 per cent a year ago. At present, 29.2 million people tune in to BBC services in a week, compared with 27.3 million for commercial radio.

The BBC yesterday announced 'the biggest shift of radio and television production to the regions' in its history, aimed at defusing fierce criticism that it is too London- centred. It plans to increase spending on nationally networked programmes made outside London from one-fifth to one-third by 1997, switching spending of pounds 75m.

Under the plans, only 100 staff will move out of London. Instead, independent producers are being encouraged to fall in with the BBC and set up regional production bases. However, Nigel Smith, chairman of the Broadcasting for Scotland Campaign, which has led the lobby for changes, said last night: 'These are exaggerated claims, involving only 5 per cent of the total spending.'

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