At 6am on St Valentine’s Day the first local commercial speech station to be launched outside London will begin broadcasting.
Edinburgh’s Talk107 will also be the first commercial speech radio station to be launched with an analogue licence since 1994, when its big sister TalkSport — then known as TalkRadio — went on air.
Ofcom awarded the Edinburgh FM licence in December 2004 to The Wireless Group — the then owners of TalkSport radio. Launch director Calum Macaulay has spent the past year creating a station he believes will bring something unique to listeners in Edinburgh, fulfilling Ofcom’s desire to increase choice in commercial radio.
Macaulay, along with everyone at TalkSport — owned by the UTV group as of September 2005 — is passionate about speech radio and believes there is a future for mass-market national and local commercial speech radio across the UK, as there is in the US and Australia.
"To get to this point has involved a lot of time lobbying Ofcom to promote speech radio. They are looking to broaden choice in the marketplace and yet we don’t see commercial speech anywhere across the UK. In our research we have found that around 30 per cent of all radio listening is to speech and virtually none of that is to commercial radio — it is all going to BBC national or local services," he says.
"There has been a prevailing view that commercial stations can’t do speech, that the BBC has too many resources etc., etc., but if you look at the US and Australia, they have very healthy commercial speech going on, as well as public service radio. We can’t see any reason why we can’t make speech profitable and make it work commercially," adds Macaulay.
In terms of making commercial speech work, TalkSport is a great example of how it can be done. In the first quarter of last year the station recorded its highest weekly reach of 2.5 million adults, which put it ahead of music station Virgin for the first time. By the end of 2005, despite commercial radio losing 1.4 per cent in market share to the BBC over the year, TalkSport had increased share in listening from 1.6 per cent to 1.8 per cent.
Macaulay says: "TalkSport is incredibly successful commercially, success which is largely driven by [programme director] Bill Ridley, he’s a real seasoned news guy with 30 to 40 years’ experience.
Bill has been heavily involved with Talk107’s programme director Colin Paterson in terms of making sure that the way we do things in Edinburgh replicates the attitude and personality of TalkSport."
Macaulay stresses the length of time that it has taken to set up the new station — time that has mostly been spent searching for talented, original presenters.
He also appointed a team to run the station which he believes is certain to make a success of it. The station’s managing director is Peter Gillespie, who Macaulay describes as a "solid commercial operator". Programme director Colin Paterson is returning to what was previously The Wireless Group after a stint with Emap Radio in the Northeast. Macaulay says of Paterson: "He’s young, but he gets it, he understands about speech and buys into the way we do speech."
Different format Paterson says that the station’s format is "totally different to anything that has gone before in the UK". He puts this down to a hand-picked group of presenters and journalists who will be on air.
"We had to make sure the presenters were different to anything that had been on air before, so we went fishing in a different pond to where you would normally go fishing if you were putting together a radio station.
"We have a heavy backbone of press guys with great journalistic experience, which gives us credibility and means we have a lot of very well-informed individuals with us — that’s half the battle of talk radio. If they are well informed they are going to have an opinion and that’s going to stimulate debate."
Two of Talk107’s main presenters have left behind them long and established careers in print. Mike Graham, who will present the weekday midmorning slot between 10am and 1pm was editor of the Scottish Daily Mirror until he was axed in December last year — along with 22 other journalists as part of Trinity Mirror’s cutbacks.
Simon Pia, the former diary writer at The Scotsman, will present the weekday drivetime show from 4pm to 7pm along with Heather Dee, who has worked for Sky, Reuters and the BBC.
Macaulay says they have been lucky in terms of "the situations in which they have found people" and that when they applied for the Edinburgh licence they intimated to Ofcom the kind of people they wanted for the station and that "by and large the key people we had in that list are now with the station as it launches".
Challenge to BBC The station will have a news team of eight to nine people, headed by Gwen Lawrie, and Macaulay believes a core part of its overall success will be down to the intense local focus of its news coverage and live debate, which, according to Macaulay, BBC Scotland can’t match.
"I would hope we can challenge the BBC’s output. The truth is some people will never go away from the BBC, they are the die-hards who hate commercial radio, but we are happy to have everyone else. I think the way we’ll do it is to keep it very local, we’ll talk about nothing except Edinburgh, Fife, Lothians and Falkirk. You won’t hear a feature about sheep farming in the Shetlands, which you’d hear on the Beeb."
Macaulay says the station will have a close working relationship with the local press and that if they break stories the station will be discussing them.
"The local press are our allies. We haven’t got the resources of the BBC to be breaking stories all the time. We’ll take the stories that are breaking and give them a new platform."
He also believes the station’s mix of local news, debate and sport means it will appeal to a wider group of people than the typical speech-radio listeners who are "slightly older ABC1s". He aims to get the 15- to 25-year-olds listening and thinks the sports coverage will lure them in.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Macaulay believes the station will offer a refreshing alternative to "Beeb speak".
He says: "Talk107, like TalkSport, will be irreverent, funny and will deliver serious debate with a huge sense of fun.
If you make people laugh in the morning then they’ll be back again tomorrow."
If Talk107 is as successful as Macaulay believes it will be, it could mark the start of a new trend in commercial radio that may help close the gap on the BBC’s increasing share of overall listening, now at 55.1 per cent.
With UTV having already submitted applications for licences in Manchester and Newcastle, commercial regional speech stations could be here to stay.
THE TALK107 TEAM
News Editor: Gwen Lawrie
Qualified as a lawyer before switching to journalism. Lawrie has worked on most ILR stations in Scotland, but came to national prominence as the newsreader on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio. Voted the "sexiest voice on radio" by www.erotica.co.uk readers.
Deputy news editor: Gordon Chree
Best known for his two-year stint at the successful Real Radio in Scotland. Chree has covered Scottish and UK elections live as well as the 9/11 terror attacks.
Broadcast journalists: Catherine Brown, Joe Odber, Lisa Bacon
Brown has been in radio for 12 years and has covered stories ranging from the opening of the Scottish Parliament to the Stockline plastics factory explosion.
Odber has been a broadcast journalist for the past five years. He worked at Lanarkshire’s Clan FM, then Wave 102 in Dundee before moving back to central Scotland with Real Radio.
Bacon graduated in 1995 with a BA Honours in International Relations and Politics before she carved out a career in advertising. She retrained as a broadcast journalist in her early 30s and was a newsreader and reporter for Radio Jackie in London. She has also worked at Saga FM, Metro Radio, BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio Five Live.