MEDIA: Why I wouldn’t bet against Talk Radio’s Kelvin factor

One of the oddest things about Talk Radio, the UK’s only commercial national speech network now controlled by Kelvin MacKenzie, is that it has had such a low public profile - up to now.

One of the oddest things about Talk Radio, the UK’s only commercial

national speech network now controlled by Kelvin MacKenzie, is that it

has had such a low public profile - up to now.



Even trying to find its crackly frequency on medium wave is not easy -

it’s a service that will benefit enormously from the conversion to

digital.



A surprising number of newspapers fail to list its programme

schedules.



And when you do tune in you find yourself listening to an erratic

service.



Parts of it, like Sony-award winning Anna Raeburn’s lunch time

counselling, are superb - she is sympathetic, crisp and informative. But

other sequences, the breakfast show and low grade shock jocks at night,

dishing out insults and strong language to lorry drivers, really need

fixing.



Further, with 2.4 million listeners, half that of Radio 5 Live, joining

its audience can feel like tuning into a club of sad, prejudiced

people.



What value should we place on the Kelvin factor? A huge amount.



He’s the boss and 30 per cent stakeholder in a network losing pounds 8

million a year. His pitch to turn it around within 18 months, which

defeated an attempted management buyout, is based on a relatively simple

proposal.



His track record and determination to build his future, as a

businessman.



He believes that vastly improved output, sharp newsy debates and

interviews, spiced with humour, organised by top tabloid newspaper

professionals, will attract more listeners, thus sending up the price of

advertising and sponsorship.



There’s no reason to think this cannot be done - although MacKenzie, at

52, is not familiar with the stand-up comedian and writing scene where

television trawls. I’m also amazed at how little Talk taps into the huge

number of commuters with mobile phones and how few fun competitions it

runs.



Commercial speech radio works well in the US and Australia. While we are

not as uninhibited as them, British reticence is dissolving. Radio 4’s

botched relaunch is failing to draw in new, younger listeners, the

aggressive and formidable Radio 5 Live is still heavily skewed towards

men and even devotees get fed up with wall-to-wall music. And the row

over the BBC’s ’Mandelson’ memo also exposed the wide gap in news values

between public service broadcasting and the rest of the media, which the

former supreme tabloid editor is ready to exploit.



MacKenzie’s TalkCo takeover, backed by News International and

TCI/Flextech, was finalised as the third quarter of radio advertising

revenue was published.



This showed that while growth was slowing the sector is still gaining

market share. Also, the top ten advertisers, which include BT, Carphone

Warehouse and OnetoOne, are well suited to Talk. There’s money around to

bankroll Kelvin’s dream.



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