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
A surprising number of newspapers fail to list its programme
And when you do tune in you find yourself listening to an erratic
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
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
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
His track record and determination to build his future, as a
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
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.