Liverpool speech radio station wants to play music instead

The only commercial speech radio station outside London has asked Ofcom for permission to start playing music outside of peak times.

CityTalk was licensed as a 24-hour speech service providing news, sport, features and discussion and launched last year to coincide with the start of Liverpool’s year as European city of culture.

But it has now written to the broadcasting regulator asking for its format – the rules governing what it can and cannot broadcast – to be relaxed because the current requirements are “unsustainable”.

Its owner, Bauer Radio, is proposing to continue providing 100 per cent speech during peak times – defined as weekday breakfast and afternoon drive, plus weekend mornings.

At other times, it wants to broadcast a mix of “soft pop-led” music and talk, and potentially share programming with its two Liverpool sister stations, Radio City and Magic 1548.

In a letter to Ofcom seen by Press Gazette, CityTalk station manager Richard Maddock and Bauer Radio strategy director Travis Baxter said the current business model for the station was “difficult to address in buoyant times” and “made more difficult in the current economic climate”.

“The station believes it needs the proposed changes to secure its commercial future in the current economic circumstances,” the letter said.

“Failure to achieve this will result in a loss of choice for listeners, as the station may eventually need to close.

“This would clearly have the effect of reducing listener choice and the range of available programmes in the short to mid term.”

According to official Rajar listening figures for the last three months of 2008, CityTalk recorded a debut weekly audience of 63,000 – about 12,000 short of expectations.

Listeners tuned in for an average of 5.8 hours – higher than the five-hour target set by Bauer Radio when it applied for the licence.

Bauer beat nine other applicants for the Liverpool FM licence, one of the last to be advertised in the UK ahead of the digital switchover.

It was the second commercial talk radio station to launch outside London, after Talk 107 in Edinburgh.

But this station closed on Christmas Eve last year after it failed to reach its audience and revenue targets.

Until last week, new radio stations would have had to wait two years after their launch before they could request a format change. That restriction has now been lifted.

Ofcom has begun a four-week public consultation on the proposed change because it said the request would “substantially alter the character” of the station.

The consultation closes at 5pm on 31 March.

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