Emap has revealed it will hire up to 30 journalists, presenters and researchers in preparation for the launch of its new talk radio station in Liverpool.
CityTalk beat nine other broadcasters — including rival talk radio bids from the Guardian Media Group and Ulster Television — to win a licence from Ofcom to broadcast to 1.5 million adults across Merseyside.
The station's chairman, former Granada journalist Terry Smith, said the station would be radically different from anything currently on British radio, founded on strong editorial content and coherent discussion.
He told Press Gazette: "The type of radio station we're talking about is something that doesn't exist in the UK. We knew we had an extremely difficult job to do — first of all selling the concept of talk radio and secondly showing that we were the best people to do it."
CityTalk's proposed format is based on a mix of 24-hour rolling news, sport, documentaries and discussion. Regular features will include business reports, updates from local MPs in Parliament, and a weekly "Worldwide Radio" feature in which English-speaking stations across the world join together to discuss the week's news.
Smith said the station would be "more punchy, have more personality and be closer to the edge" than BBC local radio, without pandering to the talk radio stereotype of "shock jocks" and incoherent phone-ins.
He said: "I've heard lots of phone-ins around the country, and they're totally dominated by people who want to talk about their own subjects, which means it frequently takes the presenters into areas which they know nothing about.
"In consecutive phone calls you might get someone who's quite funny and then the next caller is a widow who's upset about the amount of money she's had to spend on her husband's funeral. It's that kind of thing that just doesn't sound right."
A large part of Emap's research into the viability of a talk station in Liverpool was carried out in the US and Canada — countries in which speech radio is already experiencing a boom.
Smith said: "We did a fairly detailed analysis of other talk stations around the world, and went looking at some of the best-performing talk stations in America. Out of the 20 biggest US cities, in 12 of them the biggest station was a speech station."
Emap's licence win brings the number of stations it owns in Liverpool to three. After a spell on the Sunday Express and on Granada's World In Action, Smith formed a consortium and launched the city's first commercial station, Radio City, in 1974.
He said: "I've been here since day one. As an ex-journalist, [strong speech content] has always been very important to me. I've been arguing for quite some time that we've got to widen the appeal of commercial radio."
CityTalk aims to be on-air by next summer, in time for Liverpool's year as European City of Culture in 2008. Smith said: "We'll probably have to add between 25 and 30 jobs — it hasn't been finalised yet. At the moment our single newsroom [employing nine news and sports journalists] covers both Radio City and Magic. We'll expand that, so that as a pure news operation it'll serve all three stations."
CityTalk will be the second all-speech radio station to launch in the UK in more than a decade, since Talk Radio (now talkSPORT) in 1995.
In February this year, Ofcom awarded the new Edinburgh FM licence to UTV Radio-owned Talk 107.
Initial listening figures from Rajar suggest the Edinburgh talk station has got off to a slow start, drawing in 23,000 listeners out of market of over a million adults.
Although Smith said he was disappointed with Talk 107's results, he said he remained upbeat that an all-speech station would work in a large market such as Liverpool.
He said: "It won't be the instant success that a new music station might be — it'll take longer to establish and it'll be more costly to do."
The cost of getting the station on-air has been met by a £3m intercompany loan from Emap.