’I love celebrities,’ said Kelvin Mackenzie recently. ’There is
nothing as interesting as famous people.’
Nor is there a better way to hook audiences, although commercial
stations have been surprisingly slow to lure stars onto their
Mackenzie’s remark is one pointer to the kind of direction he expects
Talk Radio to take if his bid to take it over from majority shareholder
CLT, and the current management, succeeds. For the PR industry, his
fixation with prominent people from all walks of life offers a guide to
his plans for hyping Talk.
Last week, as the Talk Co team entered exclusive negotiations to buy
control, it coincided with the annual Radio Festival in Birmingham,
where key industry figures gathered. Mackenzie’s move was uppermost in
everybody’s minds: established networks, including BBC Radio, regard him
as dangerous, capable of upsetting the status quo - which currently sees
commercial and publicy-funded radio taking equal shares of the audience
- unchanged since Talk began three years ago.
The BBC has sewn up Radio 5 Live’s Premier League football rights for
three years and, earlier this month, the Scottish Premier League, to
prevent Mackenzie’s Talk mounting an early sports challenge. So his
immediate options are narrower than he’d like. The only way his large
bid of pounds 25 million can be justified in the short term is by
dramatically and rapidly raising audiences from the current 2.3 million
- thus attracting more advertising from the big brands at enhanced
rates. Radio may be harder than he imagines, though Talk will gain an
immediate high profile if he moves in at the end of August.
Currently the national station with the smallest audience, he wants Talk
to stand out and be talked about. But the first ’shock jock’ Talk
format, flaunting rude, often nasty comment, lasted all of three months
before the Radio Authority got tough. Mackenzie won’t repeat that
mistake. In fact the Radio Authority is relaxed about his foray. So, if
you are running a showbiz/promotions agency launching anything and
handling stars from Bruce Willis to Michael Owen, Talk will want to be
on your list. It will not trash guests but it is keen to let ordinary
people quiz celebrities, especially politicians.
That’s why Mackenzie has no intention of quitting its Oxford Street HQ
and believes the BBC will rue the day it forced its radio news out of
central London to White City.
At the Radio Festival Bob Geldof, whose Planet 24 also wants to run
radio stations, spoke of the ’deracinated half wits of hum drum England
clogging the airwaves’. There was a broad murmur of approval for his
notion that fresh blood is needed.
It’s why many radio experts are hoping Mackenzie’s Talk Radio will spice
up their lives.