Bauer's speech radio station scaled back in downturn

The UK’s only commercial speech radio station outside London has been granted permission to start playing music instead.

City Talk, which provides 24-hour news and talk to Liverpool, asked media regulator Ofcom for the change because it said the all-speech requirement was “unsustainable”.

The request to start playing music outside of peak times, while keeping a 100 per cent speech breakfast and afternoon show, angered the station’s rivals.

Two thirds of the 42 people who responded to Ofcom’s public consultation were against the change.

They included three local radio groups that argued that City Talk should hand back its licence if it no longer wanted to provided the news and speech service.

Bauer, the magazine and broadcasting group that owns City Talk, said the business model behind an all-speech radio station was “difficult to address in buoyant times” and “made more difficult in the current economic climate”.

City Talk in the first three months of this year recorded an average weekly audience of 59,000 in a market of 1.6 million adults – short of its 75,000 listener target.

Publishing its response this afternoon, Ofcom said it was important that Liverpool still had a local service offering “substantial amounts of locally relevant speech” and journalism.

Under the new rules, breakfast and afternoon shows must remain 100 per cent speech-based, but 50 per cent of the station’s output at other times can be “soft pop” music.

It will still be required to broadcast a late-night discussion programme five days a week and a Saturday afternoon sports show.

The station had also asked to share some programming with its siter station, Magic 1548, but this part of the request was turned down.

City Talk’s move leaves just LBC and LBC News in London and the nationwide TalkSport offering speech radio to rival the BBC.

Last December, another commercial speech station, Talk 107, closed down with the loss of 20 jobs after it failed to attract enough listeners and revenue.

A wide-ranging set of proposals to help save Britain’s largely loss-making local radio industry is due to be announced in Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report next month.

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