The BBC’s Radio Five Live and Kelvin MacKenzie’s talkSPORT have both gained ground as they battle it out to win over sports fans.
TalkSPORT, which last year reinvented itself as a sport-only station, saw its audience share increase to 1.7 per cent from 1.4 per cent in the past quarter, with its weekly reach rising by 86,000 to just under 2.3 million.
Although the reach is still slightly down on the 2.4 million who tuned into talkSPORT during the corresponding period last year, the station claims its decision to change its format in January 2000 has been borne out by the profile of its new audience, the growth in the number of hours they listen and a boost in advertising.
With an almost 75 per cent male audience listening to an average of eight hours each week, compared to six and a half hours during the same period last year and half of those in the more affluent ABC1 category, the station has seen a 41 per cent increase in its turnover.
"There are not many stations that have set out to lose half their audience," a spokesman for talkSPORT said. "But we have now got the audience that the advertisers want which isn’t available anywhere else, and they are staying with the station longer."
It recently secured the rights to live commentaries of the Premiership games involving Spurs, Fulham and Chelsea. This summer, the station is bringing in Geoffrey Boycott for two weekly cricket shows on Tuesday and Saturday evenings.
"The BBC is spending incredible amounts of money on radio rights and we can’t fight that," the spokesman said. "But our aim is to be smarter, quicker and slicker and more in tune with what our audience wants."
The BBC says it is not complacent about the challenge from talkSPORT, and has recently introduced a number of changes, such as dropping the 7pm news and replacing it with a sports and news show.
"There hasn’t been a big philosophical shake-up because we are confident that what we are doing is right," a spokeswoman said. "But we are certainly not complacent and we know we have to keep on our toes."
Like talkSPORT, Radio Five Live sees its breakfast show as key to the success of the rest of the day’s programmes, and the BBC station attracted a record 2.4 million listeners for its show, compared to 2.25 million in the same quarter last year.
Its audience share rose to 4.3 per cent from 4.1 per cent the previous quarter and its reach was 5.7 million, compared to 5.5 million the previous quarter. Both figures still fall short of last year’s 4.4 million and 6.19 million respectively which Five Live bosses have attributed to a strong season of sport last year.
By Julie Tomlin