Listening figures at Sussex radio stations have taken another nosedive.

The latest quarterly report by Rajar, Radio Joint, Audio Research, shows BBC Southern Counties Radio has lost 70,000 listeners in three months.

The station is listened to by 212,000 people each week, compared with 282,000 in the last quarter, and each listener tunes in for an average 8.6 hours a week.

In the same quarter last year, June to September, the station lost 25,000 listeners.

Its figures peaked at 350,000 in 2002.

Figures started to plummet after the station changed its line-up, replacing popular breakfast presenter John Radford with Neil Pringle, the station’s former managing editor.

Saturday night presenter Tommy Boyd took over Bill Buckley’s afternoon slot, while Gordon Astley returned to the station to present the mid-morning show after a gap of ten years.

A BBC spokesman said: “Any fall in listeners is, of course, disappointing. At BBC Southern Counties Radio we work hard to listen to our audience and give them engaging radio.

“We will be looking into this recent set of figures to see where we can improve our service.”

Southern FM has also suffered a decline in listeners, losing 26,000 in the past quarter, though this was an improvement on the same quarter last year when it lost 39,000.

However, its share of the audience went up by 7.6% between June and September this year, which means people are tuning into programmes for longer.

The station, which is based in Portslade, put this down to investment in its content.

There has been a reshuffle of presenters in the past year and Nicky Keig-Shevlin left the station.

Its emphasis has been on music-orientated shows during the day, with Philippa Collins replacing Nick Simon.

Tara Dyne, Southern FM’s marketing manager, said: “Our investment and change in line-up has not affected our listening market share, which has grown.

“The only downside is our reach but if you compare that to all the market leaders it has not declined as much as them.

“Our job as a radio station is to play the best music variety while playing compelling and entertaining content for Sussex and we plan to continue with this strategy.”

Spirit FM, which covers Littlehampton, Bognor and Chichester, had positive results in the latest quarter.

The station has 5,000 more listeners and the amount of hours they tune in for has increased.

Spirit FM’s share of the Sussex audience has gone up to 8.9% from 7.5%.

Mercury FM, based in Crawley, gained 4,000 listeners in the last quarter.

During June and September last year, the radio station had 70,000 listeners.

Broadcasting started in a snow storm

BBC local radio came to the South in 1968 in the form of BBC Radio Brighton. There were severe blizzards as the station was being built in Marlborough Place and they threatened to bring Brighton to a standstill.

Bob Gunnell, then manager, decided to open the station ahead of schedule.

In 1992, a separate service, Radio Surrey, was launched from the Guildford studio, broadcasting Radio Sussex programmes between its own output. The stations were brought together as BBC Sussex and Surrey in 1993 and renamed BBC Southern Counties Radio in 1994.

Southern FM first went on air in August 1983 as Southern Sound, covering West Sussex. It expanded to cover East Sussex in 1989 and became part of the Capital Radio Group in 1994.

In 1991, it was renamed Southern FM. In 2005, Capital Radio Group merged with GWR to form Gcap Media, Europe’s largest commercial radio group.