A controversial new UK radio audience survey has unveiled its first ratings figures – with speech-based stations the big winners.

The research, conducted by GfK, uses electronic wristwatches to record the listening habits of participants. This contrasts with ‘official’ ratings body RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research), which uses a diary method.

The biggest beneficiary of the new study is TalkSPORT, whose parent – The Wireless Group – commissioned the survey [WAMN: 21-Feb-03]. The speech station polled 8.1 million listeners a week in the GfK research, making it the highest-rated national commercial operator; in contrast, under RAJAR’s methodology it attracts an audience of just 2.2m.

TWG’s boss, former tabloid editor Kelvin MacKenzie, has long argued that RAJAR’s ratings discriminate against smaller stations. GfK’s findings will do little to silence such claims.

In addition, the new study found that the BBC’s speech-based Radio 4 was the nation’s biggest station with 17.9m listeners, ahead of stablemate Radio 2 on 15.2m. RAJAR lists these two the other way round, putting Radio 2 in the lead on 13.2m and Radio 4 on 10m.

RAJAR, however, played down the findings. “While the GfK research may be of interest to certain sectors of the media industry,” managing director Jane O’Hara declared, “its release will have no effect on RAJAR’s current research methodology and reporting format.”

The body is conducting its own trials of new methodologies involving wristwatches and pagers. It intends to unveil plans for a new system in the summer.

GfK’s study also measures TV ratings. Big winners here include BSkyB-owned duo Sky News and Sky Sports 2, both of which more than doubled their audiences (to 16.5m and 8.9m respectively) compared with figures from BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board).

Data sourced from: Independent.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff