VETERAN broadcaster Terry Wogan has set a new record by pulling in more than eight million listeners to his Radio 2 breakfast show.
The 66-year-old’s Wake Up With Wogan programme is now firmly established as the nation’s favourite breakfast show after his audience grew by 410,000 in the last three months to pass the eight million mark for the first time.
Radio 1’s Chris Moyles was left trailing with 6.29 million listeners, according to figures released yesterday by industry body RAJAR.
On hearing the news, Wogan joked: "Hang on, there’s 60 million people in the country - what are the other 52 million listening to?"
The Irishman was not the only Radio 2 DJ to achieve a record audience.
Ken Bruce now has 6.55 million listeners, Johnnie Walker has 5.13 million and Sarah Kennedy has 4.71 million. Jeremy Vine added an extra 110,000 listeners in the last three months and now has an audience of 5.69 million.
Radio 2 as a whole saw its audience rise to 13.3 million, up 240,000 in the last quarter while Radio 1’s overall listener figures fell by 110,000, back below the 10 million mark to 9.93 million. A Radio 1 spokesman blamed a "seasonal dip" for the slight drop.
The BBC’s Asian Network digital station has passed the half a million mark for the first time, now reaching 535,000 listeners.
Jenny Abramsky, the BBC’s director of radio and music, said: "Today’s strong figures mark the end of an excellent year for BBC Radio. I am particularly pleased to see the Asian Network top the half million mark and Terry Wogan’s figures are simply awesome."
Wogan was once very much yesterday’s man at the BBC following severe TV over-exposure as a result of his three times a week evening chatshow and a gameshow, Blankety Blank.
But he has proved tremendously successful in rebuilding his career as arguably the voice of British radio today by winning over a whole new set of fans.
Many who cringed as he danced in bells and ribbons as he sang his version of the Floral Dance, which hit the charts in 1978, are now ardent fans, known as "TOGs" or Terry’s Old Geezers/Gals.
In his light-hearted way, he sends up rich and powerful people and institutions - making fun of the BBC, being rude about celebrities and showing his contempt for politicians. He is also fond of ridiculing his listeners, a dangerous strategy which seems to have paid off.
Robert Beveridge, a lecturer on media policy at Napier University, said: "He’s kind of a polite Billy Connolly. He goes into little reveries and paints a picture in his own world - but without the bad language. He’s certainly got the blarney, he chatters away.
"And there’s something to be said for people like Terry Wogan and Alistair Cooke, people who have been round the circuit a few times: they have learned their craft and are not all the time trying to push the boundaries like Chris Evans.
"They are not always trying to be smart. They are comfortable in who they are and so you feel comfortable with them."
He said Wogan had benefited from the bulge in the population caused by the post-war baby boomers, people in their 50s and 60s who grew up on the kind of rock-and-roll played on his show and who are left cold by Radio 1’s current playlist.
However, Wogan is also attracting a new, more youthful audience, including some of the 200 media students at Napier University, who are required to listen to a large number of radio stations as part of their course.
"They quite like Radio 2. They wouldn’t listen to it when they are getting dressed to go out on a Friday night - they will listen to something like Beat 106 then - but in the morning they kind of quite like that radio station," Mr Beveridge said.
"I think it’s not just the babyboomers, there will be some younger listeners creeping in there too."
He added part of the reason for the success of Wake Up With Wogan was the way it appealed to the middle market - people who find Radio 4’s Today programme too heavy but are put off by a more tabloid-style shows.
John Beyer, the director of mediawatch-uk - the successors to the late Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners Association - said the poor quality of television had generated new interest in radio.
"There’s a great renaissance in radio. A lot of people are tired of what’s on TV and are seeking more wholesome entertainment on the radio," he said.
"The last episode of Wife Swap wasn’t very edifying and I think we’ve had enough of all the cookery, lifestyle, gardening make-over programmes on TV.
"People like what’s familiar and Terry Wogan is familiar. If you turn on his radio programme, you know what you are going to get - a mix of talk, laughter and music. It’s all very light hearted and early in the morning that’s what a lot of people want."
Chris Moyles’ show has attracted 150,000 more listeners in the last three months. And compared to the same time last year, his audience has increased by a massive 770,000. The BBC digital station, 6 Music, also continued to build its audience, adding 83,000 listeners in the past year to reach an audience of 238,000.
Wogan was yesterday keeping a low-profile, but has persistently down-played his success, publicly wondering when he should retire.
"Will I have the guts to retire? What you have to avoid is leaving with a bad taste, hanging on too long. But what is too long?"
Judging by his current success, the Wogan show still has some time to run.