Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Rivals close on BBC in the battle for listeners

Northern Ireland’s two biggest radio stations — Radio Ulster and Downtown/Cool FM — are separated by just 1,000 listeners, according to the latest Rajar figures.

The BBC station has an average weekly audience of 554,000 across the province, an increase of 76,000 listeners year on year. With programmes like the award-winning Nolan Show and Good Morning Ulster, it remains the most listened to station with 23.70% of the overall market share.

But coming up close behind is local commercial radio station Downtown/Cool FM with an average weekly combined listenership of 553,000 — only 1,000 less than Radio Ulster.

Downtown/Cool has an overall market share of 22.9%, just 0.8% less than its BBC competitor.

The figures for both stations have fluctuated over the years. In 2000, 597,000 people listened to Downtown/Cool FM, while 462,000 tuned in to Radio Ulster.

Programmes such as The Nolan Show have helped boost audience figures for Radio Ulster.

Media expert and former managing director of U105 John Rosborough said it was “too close to call” between the two stations in their attempts to win the airwaves battle.

“I think it is always good to see local broadcasters doing well, whether it’s the BBC or the independent sector,” he said.

“Competition between the sectors is good, it keeps each side sharp.

“But with 1,000 listeners between them, the situation is too close to call.”

CityBeat has increased its listenership by 16,000 to a total of 144,000 tuning in each week. This takes its overall market share to 10.4%, a rise of 2.2%.

And not far behind, U105 has seen a growth in its audience with 142,000 now tuning in. U105’s market share has jumped from 6.3% to 7.9%.

“Again, these are good performances by local stations,” said Mr Rosborough.

“If you look at the market share as one big pie, U105 has 7.9%, a bit down on the previous quarter of 8.8%, while CityBeat has jumped slightly from 8% to 10.4%.”

The figures were released by radio research body Rajar. They show that 45.7m people — or 89.2% of the UK population aged 15 and over — are tuning in to their favourite radio station each week.

Nationally, BBC Radio 4 has added more than 750,000 listeners in the space of a year to achieve its biggest audience figures under current research methods.

The station is now listened to by 10.22m people every week, up from 9.45m people last year and 10m in the previous quarter.

The figures were boosted by the popularity of the Today programme, which has 6.60m listeners, an increase of nearly half a million on the same time last year. Its audience share is 16.8%, the highest figure ever.

The battle of the breakfast shows saw a gap of almost 750,000 listeners between Sir Terry Wogan and Chris Moyles.

Sir Terry, who announced last month that he is standing down from the job and will be replaced by Chris Evans, has 7.76m listeners tuning in each week, slightly up on his 7.74m last year and down on the 7.93m last quarter.

Moyles has 7.04m listeners — up from 7.02m last year but down by nearly 700,000 on the previous quarter, when he had 7.72m fans tuning in.

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