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Commercial radio has suffered its worst quarter since 1999, according to new research by Britain's leading radio analyst Grant Goddard.

Although radio is still part of as many people's lives as ever, it's a more fleeting one. Radio reaches over 90 per cent of people - but hourly listening is in a steady decline. And so is commercial radio.

"Radio revenues peaked in 2000 and had already declined by 25 per cent between 2000 and 2008. The current economic cycle is merely aggravating the structural decline that was already evident," he notes.

The number of hours of commercial radio listened to has fallen by 13.4 per cent over five years. Amongst 15-44 year olds, commercial radio's share has slopped from over 60 to under 50 per cent.

The BBC is the beneficiary - but the corporation has also found expensive digital outlays reap little reward. Despite a massive wall-to-wall publicity bombardment for DAB, less than 3 per cent of the BBC's radio listeners tune into a BBC digital-only station.

(Last year commercial radio deserted DAB in droves.)

The study points out that the industry's RAJAR don't really do radio justice. The diaries volunteers keep measure 'linear radio', and the figures reported don't include time-shifting listening such as podcasts.

Goddard didn't shed many tears for the commercial operators in a recent blog post, writing:

"It is wholly unproductive to argue to cut off the BBC’s balls, or to use the Licence Fee to improve commercial radio’s DAB infrastructure, or to expect government to subsidise local news, or to insist that radio licences' expiry dates be extended. Commercial radio is a business (admittedly, fettered by regulation). If you cannot make that business work for you, then get out of the business."

He continued:

"If I enter a game of poker, I know what the written rules are before I start playing. If I then suffer a losing streak, I cannot expect the rules suddenly to be changed to alleviate my bad luck or poor judgement. Either I play the game or I throw in my hand and quit."

Ouch.

The new report is here [PDF, 240kb] and Grant's blog here. ®

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