Rajar: Slow start for Bauer speech radio launch

The UK’s only commercial speech radio station outside London, CityTalk in Liverpool, has lost 4,000 listeners in its second set of official quarterly audience figures.

The station, owned by magazine publishing giant H Bauer, had an average weekly audience of 59,000 in a market of 1.6 million adults according to data for the first quarter of 2009 released by Rajar this morning.

In the last quarter of 2008, the station recorded a debut audience reach of 63,000 – about 12,000 short of expectations.

Listeners tuned in for an average of 4.6 hours a week – down from 5.8 hours in the first set of results and lower than the five-hour target set by Bauer Radio when it applied for the licence.

Bauer asked media regulator Ofcom in March for permission to turn the station from a 24-hour talk service into a mixture of speech and music, arguing that its current licence requirements are “unsustainable”. A response is due soon.

Management 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 wants 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.

Bauer Radio group managing director Dee Ford said: “Our priority is to run a stable and commercially viable network of radio stations that continue to serve our local communities with compelling programming.”

City Talk beat competition from nine other applicants to launch the Merseyside station – one of the last major metropolitan FM licences available from Ofcom.

In its application, the station pledged to avoid “cheap phone-in programmes” and “the ambulance-chasing, ‘we were first on the scene’ approach”.

It was the second commercial all-talk station to go on-air outside London, following the launch of Talk 107 in Edinburgh in 2006.

But the Edinburgh station, which UTV put up for sale last year because of disappointing revenue and audience figures, closed on Christmas Eve after it failed to find a buyer, with the loss of 20 jobs.

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