Radio Scotland hit by fall in listener numbers

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By a Newsnet reporter

Newly released figures show that BBC Radio Scotland’s listener numbers have fallen by just over seven per cent in 12 months

According to RAJAR, the audit body responsible for measuring the reach of Radio stations, Radio Scotland’s average listener total when comparing the second quarter of 2011 with the same period this year, is down from 1.35 million to 959,000.

The station also experienced a drop from the first quarter of 2012 to the second quarter, of almost 5 per cent.  A listener is defined as someone who has tuned in for a minimum of five minutes in a week.

The fall in listener numbers will be worrying for managers at the Glasgow based station after concerns were raised over the quality and depth of output after swingeing cuts were announced by its London controllers.  

However, in a surprise statement, head of BBC Radio Scotland, Jeff Zycinski dismissed the drop, and insisted the station’s strategy was working.

Claiming the fall was due in part to the lack of a tight SPL title race, he said:

“It’s a fairly steady performance across the bulk of the schedule with Good Morning Scotland and Sportsound pulling in the biggest number of listeners.

“Compared with last year we did see some drop-off on Saturday afternoons in the final months of the football season – mainly, of course, because there was no dramatic title chase at the top of the SPL table.

“Otherwise the data supports our strategy of offering more speech programmes in daytime and specialist music in the evening – and to offer a real alternative to the music schedules offered by commercial radio and our colleagues at BBC Radio 2.”

The station has been accused of ‘dumbing down’ output with shows such as Call Kaye and John Beattie offering a diet of lightweight chat and poorly informed discussion.  A recent Audience Council report also criticised the use of trailers in place of real news at the station.

Current affairs shows such as Derek Bateman’s Newsweek Scotland and culture programmes like The Janice Forsyth Show were recently axed, prompting campaigns and protests over the decisions.  Batemen’s show was replaced with an early morning Saturday version of the midweek programme, Good Morning Scotland.

Recently announced cuts to the station’s budget will lead to the loss of 120 jobs, prompting concerns from Scottish Ministers over the ability of BBC Scotland to meet its own obligations in terms of balanced and in depth coverage of the independence debate.

BBC Scotland has also been beset with complaints over its coverage of the respective referendum campaigns, with claims that Unionist commentators are significantly over-represented.

A dossier compiled by the Scottish government forced BBC top brass to issue guidelines to staff, warning them against using Unionist inspired pejorative terms when reporting on independence issues.

Last Saturday witnessed a second protest by a campaign group calling for an end to what it alleges is bias at the Glasgow based outfit.