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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 18:08 GMT


Ratings relief for BBC Radio 4

Broadcasting House: Most BBC national stations do well in the new figures

BBC Radio 4 gained more than 250,000 listeners in the last three months of 1998 - despite rows over the station's new format, according to the industry's figures.

The quarterly Rajar survey shows the network gained 258,000 listeners in the period from September to December 1998.

[ image: James Boyle: Threatened to quit if his changes lost listeners]
James Boyle: Threatened to quit if his changes lost listeners
The independently-compiled figures have more good news for the BBC, with more listeners for Radio 1 and Radio 3.

Radio 4's gain will come as a relief for controller James Boyle, who came under fire for changing the schedule in May 1998 in an attempt to make the station more accessible to wider audience, and to build on the big audiences for key programmes like Today and The Archers.

Boyle vowed to quit his position if his changes resulted in a damaging long-term loss of listeners.

BBC radio spokesman Simon Nelson said the station was recovering well from a drop in ratings in the last set of figures - and Boyle's changes were gradually starting to work.

He added: "Afternoon drama is up and the Today programme has recovered well from a drop last quarter."

Breakfast pop battle

[ image: Zoe Ball: Breakfast success]
Zoe Ball: Breakfast success
The breakfast battle of the pop stations brought good news for BBC Radio 1, which gained 21,000 new listeners overall, putting it on 9.76m.

Zoe Ball's breakfast show gained 219,000 listeners in her first months as a solo presenter. She has a morning audience of 4.72m.

A Radio 1 spokeswoman said if children aged four to 15 were included in the figures, she would have gained half a million new listeners.

Her Virgin Radio rival Chris Evans was up 63,000 listeners to 2.29m, and the station as a whole lost 90,000 listeners on its national AM service, on 3.03m.

"It wasn't us that declared a breakfast show battle, it was Chris," the Radio 1 spokeswoman said.

[ image:  ]
"He said it wasn't a good idea to put Zoe on her own, but these figures show it obviously was."

Virgin responded by saying Evans' ratings had increased slightly over the year, while his show still beat Zoe Ball's in London, where Virgin also broadcasts on FM.

Classical stations up

There was also good news for Britain's two classical stations. BBC Radio 3 gained 140,000 listeners to achieve a weekly reach of 2.54m.

But rival Classic FM showed a rise of 450,000 to a record 5.14m, making it the country's top-rated commercial station.

The BBC's news and sport network Radio 5 Live rose slightly to 5m listeners, while Radio 2 stayed steady on 8.89m.

National speech station Talk Radio - recently bought by a consortium led by former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie - recorded a 50,000 loss. It has a weekly reach of 2.31m listeners.

MacKenzie has since embarked on a major relaunch of the station, sacking many presenters and producers.

However, his changes have enraged some dedicated listeners, who have set up a website to protest about the changes.

In the competitive London market, pop station Capital FM stays the most popular commercial station, but rival Heart 106.2 is now the city's second most popular commercial station, displacing Capital Gold.

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