BBC Radio 4

    The RAJARs are in

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    The RAJAR figures are a ritual.

    Once every three months R4's Head of Audience Research (he does many other things too) phones up on a Wednesday evening and reels off a few key numbers for Radio 4 and Radio 7. The conversation lasts about 30 seconds - and we are both exaggeratedly laconic. Yesterday he began with "Quite good really" or words to that effect and then went on to say... "9.98million/12.5%/6.69 million/PM all-time high/everything up/Radio 7 984,000."

    I said "That's OK then. And if we indulge ourselves by musing about rounding up to the next significant figure we get to 10 million for Radio 4... but we must not cheat." End of conversation.

    I will decode - and all of what follows applies to the first three months of 2009.

    9.98 million people per week listened to Radio 4 for at least 15 minutes per week. (This figure is called 'Weekly Reach'). This figure has been exceeded only once in the last ten years or so - during the Iraq war in 2003.

    The average amount of listening per week of those 9.98 million is 12 hours and 50 minutes.(Radio 4 has the highest average weekly listening figure of the national stations). Radio 4 listening now accounts for 12.5% of all listening to all radio in the U.K - the highest figure since the current measuring system for radio listening was introduced over a decade ago.

    Weekly Reach for Today is 6.69 million. That too is a very high figure and when Today's figures are strong it helps the overall R4 figure. PM's figures - 3.84 million and a 15.1% share - have never been better - or at least not since the new measurement system was introduced.

    But it was not just News programmes that did well this quarter. Drama and Comedy for instance had a bumper quarter too. And Radio 7's weekly reach was its best yet at 984,000.

    But - and it's a very big but indeed - RAJAR figures - whether up, down or sideways - do not tell the whole story about Radio 4 or Radio 7. Quality, range, distinctiveness, originality all matter and are not always reflected in the RAJAR figures. I remember one quarter a couple of years back where I thought we had transmitted some really outstanding programmes but the RAJAR figures were not particularly noteworthy. And - painful though it may be to admit - the reverse is also possible. But I hope not in this case.

    The radio industry, unlike television (BARB) does not have overnight figures. Occasionally one yearns for evidence that a particular programme or piece of scheduling has reaped rewards - but on the whole the absence of the 'overnights' is a liberation. You can put in a greater number of 90 minute plays on Saturday afternoons - for instance - without instantly fretting about the impact on a particular Saturday afternoon's listening. One day the technology may allow for overnights in radio - and I can't deny that I would be reading them voraciously - but for the time being I enjoy not having them.

    So it's been a good RAJAR quarter and I hope we have been delighting and stimulating you - but I am acutely aware that what goes up can come down - so we won't be spending the day awash with champagne.

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