Radio audience growth slows

Commercial radio consolidated its audience gains of the past two years between October and December, despite a continued decline in all radio (including the BBC) weekly reach, according to Rajar data published this week.

All commercial radio’s weekly reach rose year-on-year to 60 per cent of all UK adults (57 per cent), although its 49 per cent share of listening – the highest ever – was just below the 50 per cent predicted three months ago.

It was the first Rajar survey to cover the launch of five new commercial regional stations last autumn and the arrival of a number of local London services.

The new regionals achieved mixed success. But, with the exception of Heart FM, they failed to achieve the anticipated negative impact on BBC radio.

In the North-East, Century Radio achieved an 11 per cent weekly reach, Heart FM in the Midlands nine per cent – although the figure was 13 per cent amongst 25 to 44-year-olds – and Scot FM managed eight per cent. Galaxy, with a nine per cent reach, claimed the highest average listening hours of the five at 7.8 hours a week.

An extra 180,000 listeners tuned into BBC Radio over the survey period. BBC Radio 5 Live enjoyed greatest growth, overtaking the three national commercial services with an audience of 4.76 million – up 52 per cent on the old Radio 5 of a year ago.

Radio 1 lost a further 200,000 listeners during the fourth quarter. BBC Network Radio head of marketing and publicity Sue Farr says the decline proves a “stabilisation” of the network’s performance. Radios 2, 3 and 4 audiences held firm.

“Radio audiences have remained relatively stable, with no major changes,” according to Radio Advertising Bureau strategic planner Justin Sampson.

Commercial radio further increased its lead over the BBC, with 224,000 more listeners a week in the final quarter of 1994.

However, Farr drew attention to London radio where, she claims, new stations are finding it difficult to gain a foothold. “Despite more players entering the market, overall listening is not growing,” she says.

The latest data offers evidence of the cannibalisation of all radio stations, with “more stations fighting for the same share of the cake,” says Farr. This appears to hold true for London Radio, which attracted a significantly lower audience than its predecessor, LBC, one year ago. It achieved a ten per cent weekly reach – just over one million listeners.

But London Radio managing director Rory McLeod hailed its first quarter a success, with 59 per cent of listeners in the ABC1 upmarket bracket and 61 per cent aged under 55. “We expected a fall-off in listening, but the dip is much less than forecast.”

Meanwhile, Country 1035 achieved an audience of 384,000 – a four per cent weekly reach.

Virgin 1215 achieved record audience levels, with a 3.2 per cent share of all listening and quarter-on-quarter growth in audience reach, hours and market share.