Digital talk station aims for multicultural audience

A claim by the managing director of the UK's newest digital talk radio station, Colourful, which is targeting an ethnically diverse audience, that it intends to be the largest independent talk radio station by 2008 may be greeted with scepticism.

But digital radio does offer a huge goldmine in potential reach and only last week retailer Dixon's announced that it was to stop selling analogue radios.

Dixon's decision follows news that digital radios are now outselling analogue radios by 30:1, and there has been a large increase in the number and range of digital transmitters. According to the most recent Rajar figures, 38.9 per cent of adults had listened to radio via television and 22.8 per cent listen via the internet.

Colourful Radio began broadcasting on 30 May and the station's managing director, Kofi Kusitor, admits that speech radio stations are a far from easy venture.

"What we wanted to do with Colourful was to create programming that wasn't just targeting black people, but that could appeal to a wider audience. It is trying to show that we may be African or Caribbean, but that doesn't mean that we don't have a view on other things."

While some journalists may complain about moves towards "diversity", walking into Colourful's offices was the first time in 10 years of working in the media that I've walked into a newsroom and seen more than one black face.

It was this opportunity of working for the first talk radio station managed by a black MD that attracted breakfast show presenter Karen Morgan to leave her job on ITV Central News and join Colourful.

"Although we're not just targeting a black audience, I think it's a good experience to work in a different environment for somebody from my own culture," says Morgan.

However, she insists that the station tries to cover subjects in a way that relates to people regardless of their race, creed or culture.

Morgan adds: "I don't think I would be comfortable doing a show which was specifically only for a black audience."

Colourful conducted a survey that revealed that black audiences no longer saw the BBC as the first choice when it comes to consuming media and broadcasting. There has also been talk about a "digital ghetto" within the Asian community with many Muslims preferring to watch Asian TV channels via satellite rather than British ones.

Colourful's head of business development, Seltzer Cole, says: "The explosion in the number of channels both in radio and in television means that people have more choice, so we have to work pretty hard to not only keep their attention, but to build on it at the same time."

Cole says that there are many of the station's journalists, including former BBC 94.9 presenter Henry Bonsu and Radio 4 announcer Tania Shillam, who joined the station because they found mainstream too restrictive. He says: "I've been in many newsrooms where people have asked me as the producer, ‘oh do you know any black people who can talk about crime.' My answer was no — I know black people who can talk about skiing, about classical music or about fine dining."

Listener feedback to the station has been positive, and in two months the station has built its weekly reach to 64,000.

Although not everyone tuning in to the station is happy with the format. Kusitor shows me an email from a disgruntled punter that complains: "Are you a black station? I think you would be better placed on BBC Radio 4."

It's hardly the worst criticism that a fledgling station could receive.

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