Radio Scotland losing 1,500 listeners a week

BBC Radio Scotland has lost almost 250,000 listeners over the past three years, according to latest figures, which also reveal that the audience for Good Morning Scotland has slumped by 75,000 in a year.

While the station's flagship current affairs programme has suffered a fall in listeners from 455,000 in 2008 to 380,000 in 2009, the BBC's Sportsound programme has also slumped with a drop of 33,000, or 9.5 per cent, in just two years.

The station's decline is the equivalent of losing 1,500 listeners a week for three years. The Rajar figures for the final quarter of 2006 had Radio Scotland at 1,096,000 listeners, while yesterday's figures were down to 864,000, a drop of 21 per cent.

Last night, BBC Scotland insisted the decline of its radio station was not as steep as the official figures suggested, arguing that the average listening figure for 2006 was 980,000, while 2009 was 904,000, a loss of 76,000 listeners or 7 per cent.

The fall in listening figures comes as a new editor takes over Good Morning Scotland, although the BBC insists this is unconnected. Phil Wells, who has recently gone on a six-month secondment to BBC Radio 5 Live Drive, has been replaced by Nicolai Gentchev, one of the top editors from Radio 4's Today programme.

Yesterday, Labour peer Lord Foulkes said the trivialisation of Good Morning Scotland (GMS) as a major factor in the station's decline. "If you compare the Today programme to GMS, the Today programme is authoritative; it sets the agenda for the day.

"But GMS is full of giggling – not just girls but people of both sexes giggling away; it does not have that authority. Unless Radio Scotland have a major rethink, in four years no-one will be listening."

Yesterday, Jeff Zycinski, head of Radio Scotland, argued that as news and sport are the principal engines of the station, its success was pegged to the news agenda and the success of Scottish football teams.

He pointed out that the station had recently embarked on major investment in public service broadcasting such as drama, comedy, investigative journalism and live music, which did not guarantee large audiences.

He said: "We can't have our cake and eat it. In the BBC, we are basically saying we are providing something that is not available in the commercial market. We are trying to provide a quality offering and quality offering does not necessarily translate to big jumps in numbers."

When asked if Radio Scotland was failing, he replied: "Absolutely not. There is always going to be debate about a station such as ourselves. Is it failing? A station that over the course of a year gets 900,000 listeners a week, sometimes over one million. That is not a failing station; that is a very successful station.

" I could be sitting here with 1.5 million listeners but we'd have done it through pop music and that would be failing our public purpose. So, failure is open to interpretation."

Last night, Brian McNair, Professor of Journalism and Communication at the University of Strathclyde, said: "BBC Radio Scotland does well in the area of journalism.

"GMS and Newsdrive do an excellent job of covering the Scottish agenda.

"Too much that comes in between is mediocre, though: MOR (middle of the road] music shows; phone-ins giving far too much space to the arrogantly ignorant.

"There needs to be more genuinely local coverage of the type that community radio stations such as Sunny Govan are doing."