The BBC has unique problems with the latest RAJAR figures: the digital station that management wants to close increased its audience by 50%, while the surprise ratings boost for Radio 2's breakfast show will enrage commercial rivals.

New audience figures for Q1 by RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd) showed that 6 Music had 1.02 million listeners each week, compared to 681,000 a year earlier. The average hours per listener increased from 5.5 hours in Q4 2009 to 7.7 hours in Q1 2010.

6 Music appears to have benefited from the publicity surrounding the controversial plan by BBC management to close the station, which plays alternative and modern rock. A public consultation by the BBC Trust - the governing body of the publicly funded broadcaster - runs until May 25.

Coldplay, La Roux, Sigur Ros, Dave McCabe of the Zutons and Delphic are the latest act to come out in support of the network.

In a statement, Coldplay said 6 Music "nurtures and celebrates the music that hasn't yet joined the mainstream. It provides an important platform for developing and left of centre artists, and its loss would be a significant blow to Britain's music industry both creatively and commercially." The band also wants the under-threat Asian Network to be saved.

Industry Campaign

U.K. trade body the BPI recently launched a campaign website, thejoyof6.com, and it released a survey conducted via the site. It showed that 98.1% agreed that 6 Music played a lot of music they didn't hear on other stations, and 75% said they went to see bands play live after hearing them on 6 Music.

"The proposed closure of 6 Music would mean less exposure for new music, which would have a significant and negative impact on Britain's cultural heritage," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor in a statement.

The proposal by the BBC to cut 6 Music and the Asian Network was seen as evidence that it was showing politicians - in particular Conservatives, predicted to win the May 6 election - it could trim its operations. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed this week may be more focused on other issues, so it's possible the Trust will take a second look at the idea - particularly given the public outcry and the commercial sector indicating it does not agree 6 Music should be shut.

Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative appointed yesterday (May 12) as secretary of state for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, said in March that he didn't understand the logic in cutting niche services such as 6 Music and the Asian Network.

"They don't cost an awful lot of money and they seem to be fulfilling a gap in the market but I do think the BBC is right to be asking questions about what it does across the board because that's what the whole of the public sector's having to do," said Hunt on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show.

Chris Evans Tops Wogan

AC network Radio 2 poses another problem for the BBC - it's arguably become too successful, which will lead to further complaints from commercial rivals. They want Radio 2 to create distinctive programming that is not served by the market. The BBC Trust has already told the management to do more for older listeners.

Last month, controller Bob Shennan told Billboard.biz that he expected audience "churn" in the first set of quarterly figures for breakfast host Chris Evans. He took over from Terry Wogan who presented the show for 17 years.

But the new show had a record 9.53 million listeners per week - the biggest audience for any U.K. radio show under current measuring methodology, which began in 1999. Wogan's final RAJAR figure for Q4 2009 matched his own previous record, but that was 8.1 million.

Given the commercial sector's concerns, no wonder Tim Davie, director BBC Audio & Music, did not go overboard in his celebrations and noted that the "quarter's figures are also great news for the industry as all radio listening has grown."

Evans - whose show has been heavily promoted with BBC TV promos - helped lift Radio 2's total audience to a new high of 14.57 million weekly listeners - up from 13.46 million last year.

National top 40 station Radio 1 had a record high of 11.74 million listeners, up from 11.07 million a year earlier.

Digital Back In Growth

After a setback for digital radio in the last set of figures, DAB increased its share of total radio listening to 15.1% from 12.7% a year earlier. Share of radio listening via a digital platform has increased to 24% from 20.1% a year earlier.

RAJAR's latest research shows that DAB set ownership has increased by 9% year-on-year, with over one third of the population, or 17.7 million adults, now living in a home with DAB access.