Apologies for returning yet again to the subject of BBC Radio 3 audience figures. But an upbeat article by Norman Lebrecht does require comment.
"Some good news for BBC Radio 3... Radio 3 has, by our reading of the stats, a 4.4% increase on the comparable first quarter of 2013..." - Norman Lebrecht Slipped Disc May 16
Which is contradicted by the facts. RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) reports the Radio 3 audience ('000) as:
Q1 2013 - 2,163
Q1 2014 - 2,087
This is a decrease of 3.5%, not an increase of 4.4%. But don't take my word: the BBC's own press release confirms that: "Radio 3 has a weekly audience of 2.09 million listeners – compared to... 2.16m last year".
"Average listening hours have risen by an hour to 6 hours 38 minutes in a typical week, the highest for six years" - Norman Lebrecht Slipped Disc May 16
RAJAR reports a 0.2 hour (12 minute) increase year on year. When total audience is multiplied by hours per listener to give the crucial measure of total listening hours this becomes a decrease of 0.2%. Moreover the claim that Q1 2014 is Radio 3's highest average hours per listener for six years is incorrect. Q4 2011 was also 6.6 hours,
"The Rajar listening figures are out. They usually make bad reading for the classical music community with a continuing trend of steady decline. Not this time" - Norman Lebrecht Slipped Disc May 16
In fact the RAJAR data does confirm the continuing steady decline of classical music radio. Year on year the size of the audience for classical music radio (Radio 3 and Classic FM combined) fell by 4.6%, average hours per listener fell by 3.7% and total listening hours fell by a massive 10.7%. Did someone mention good news for the classical music community?
However, Norman Lebrecht did manage to get two of his facts right. Radio 3 achieved a 4.8% increase in audience size and a one hour increase in hours per listener between Q4 2013 and Q1 2014. But little significance can be read into this. It is the year on year trend that is the true measure of performance; because seasonality, rather than changes in listener choice, always causes some quarter on quarter fluctuation. Moreover the Q4 2013 Radio 3 performance was exceptionally poor - the smallest audience and lowest hours per listener for almost two years - meaning that the Q1 2014 'improvement' is simply a shift from 'exceptionally poor' to 'poor'.
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Less spin is put on the same programme losing more than 100,000 in the preceding quarters since being aggressively suburbanised.