The talk of the radio industry

Although Talk Radio has made a sluggish start, initial audience levels are encouraging.

SBHD: Although Talk Radio has made a sluggish start, initial audience levels are encouraging.

Talk Radio UK is the station on everybody’s lips at the moment, for all the wrong reasons. The departure of sales director Alec Kenny two weeks ago sent immediate jitters through the media world, which is notoriously unforgiving of sluggish launches.

The management, led by managing director John Aumonier, always knew they faced a cultural problem in addressing a British audience. Speech-based radio in the UK has traditionally relied on the sober model of Radio 4, or, at its more controversial end, the talk-back style of the old LBC.

What Talk Radio offers is a distinctive US form of hard-talking, judgmental, hackle-raising radio. It is meant to act like an audio version of electric shock treatment – sparking listeners into becoming participants in a debate.

Initial signs are hopeful. The station is receiving more than 350,000 calls a week from listeners, according to BT figures. This is a phenomenal rate compared with the former LBC average of about 12,000 a week, claims Aumonier. However, until the first full sweep of Rajar data, available at the end of July, placing an ad will remain an act of faith.

What the station now needs is a sales director with radio experience and real sympathy with the Talk Radio proposition. “It needs to have someone running it who’s an exemplification of the station’s output – but I don’t think they can afford Tony Vickers,” says one media director. The key for Talk Radio is to build a large weekly reach among those trying out the station in the first year, he says. Then, in the second year, the station will be well placed to build the loyalty of its audience and overall listening hours.

Aumonier is confident this will happen: “At the moment, we’re in hiatus between the launch and build-up of advertising.” All new stations take time to settle in, he adds. Both Classic FM and Virgin 1215 had their teething troubles for the first six months, before their audiences began to grow.

Aumonier admits that all programming is “under the microscope”. Although he refuses to talk about specific slots, rumours have emerged that the presenters of The Rude Awakening breakfast show, Samantha Meah and Sean Bolger, are about to be replaced. And there are suggestions that Aumonier wants to improve the station’s rather rough-hewn production values, which may be acting as a turn off for some potential listeners.

Last week, Aumonier recruited an experienced new producer from TV programme Kilroy to sharpen up the station’s early morning schedule.

But he does not expect to become popular with broadsheet radio reviewers overnight. “It’s a little bit grainy because that’s the nature of the station. We want to be there with our finger on the pulse of what people are discussing in shops and offices, but maybe not in Hampstead wine bars,” he says.

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