This is the conclusion of an independent study by Dr David Morrison, director of research at the Institute of Communications Studies at Leeds University.
The report is published as the Government prepares to issue its Green Paper on the BBC, questioning whether the corporation should continue with a pop music service funded by the licence fee.
The BBC's response, guided by its incoming director general, John Birt, may seek to recast Radio 1 as a youth service, with more speech and public service programmes. 'Some of the young are so passionate about it they would go down to London to demonstrate,' Dr Morrison said. 'They don't like Janet Street-Porter youth programmes. They find her patronising.'
Dr Morrison said yesterday that the corporation should resist making Radio 1 elitist. His research, analysing the views of 1,000 listeners, showed that Radio 1 devotees are just as loyal to their station as Radio 4 and Radio 3 listeners.
Radio 1, founded 25 years ago, is listened to by about 28 per cent of the population each week, 83 per cent of them in the 16 to 44 age band. The research, commissioned by the BBC's broadcasting research department, shows that people take pop music very seriously. 'It is seen, from across a wide age range, to have cultural importance.'
Of the 1,000 people polled, in an age range from 12 to 45-plus, 21 per cent mentioned pop as their favourite, with music from the 1960s second (10 per cent). The 12 to 25 age group was more likely to listen to personal music collections rather than radio.
Dr Morrison warns that since the musical tastes of the young are so specialised and fractured, gearing Radio 1 purely to youth music would fail. The study argues that just because pop music is the mainstay of commercial radio, that does not mean that the BBC should withdraw.
It says the range of pop music is so great that no one station can do justice to it. There is also a risk that dominant records are hounded to death by repetitive playing, while Radio 1 manages to accommodate a wider range of pop than other stations.
In the survey, Radio 1 listeners were insistent that it should not be forced to accept advertising.
They also feared that if it became commercial it would spell the end for interviews with artists and bands. Radio 1 was also seen as the station which promotes new bands and music. 'What we see in effect is that Radio 1 takes the listener into music in a way other stations do not. It provides not just exposure to pop records, but situates the music within the full texture of pop musical culture.' Radio 1 and the growth of pop music appear to be inextricably linked, the report concludes.
Johnny Beerling, controller of Radio 1, said yesterday: 'I think Radio 1 listeners love it every bit as much as Radio 4 listeners love Radio 4. You tinker with it at your peril.'
The Role of Radio One in the People's Lives, by David Morrison, Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds.