In My Opinion: Alex Bell: Why talk107 was destined to fail

AS the breakfast presenter when Edinburgh radio station, talk107, launched, I have some insight as to why it will close this Christmas Eve. Firstly, and forgive the grubby tone of this, but we need to talk about money. I negotiated a reasonable deal. Being fired put my bank account into ‘the black’ for the first time in years. But most of the crew were paid stupidly low sums.

People were getting about £100 to present three hours of live radio late at night. Producers and reporters were on less. The budget couldn’t stretch to a shoestring. The owners seemed to think advertising could be sold off the back of a fourth-rate product. It can’t.

At the start, it was claimed talk107 would be a sort of Radio Four. That was the brief for the sales team. It was nothing like the BBC. The product didn’t match the pitch.

The launch team were hampered by another factor – we were only allowed to talk about things which were happening in Edinburgh. For entertainment this Christmas, play the game where you have to talk for four hours, without any contributors, about the front page of the Edinburgh Evening News. It’s quite hard. Now repeat that day in and day out.

There was also no coherent vision for the station. Ideas would be presented at meetings one day and changed the next. Admittedly, this often happens in the BBC, but the weight of tradition and competence usually overrides the nutty schemes of management. At talk107, that didn’t happen.

The station also doggedly resisted the obvious. When we suggested our festival coverage could include comedians and performers, we were told such people would never bother to promote their shows. Aye, right.

talk107 could have been good. Not Radio Four, but quirky, funny and informative. Of course, there is the talent – indeed the pressure of the station forced some great performances, which, given time, could have won awards. However, to be good, you need a bit more money, a proper idea, and some staff too; it’s not hard.

It leaves a studio, equipment and a licence. Couldn’t the first two at least be rescued by the various media courses in the Central Belt, and used to run a proper student radio station? The teenagers and tutors could almost certainly make a better job of it than the previous lot.

Alex Bell

The following comment was received: For a man involved, until recently, in running a venerable commercial news website, Alex’s depth of knowledge of the commercial realities of radio broadcasting is disappointing.

While I respect his abilities and agree with some of his observations on initial programming policy, the reason talk107 ultimately failed is because it was not allowed to broadcast to a big-enough area. At launch, the two existing commercial UK talk stations (LBC and talkSPORT) had never achieved more than 4-5 per cent weekly reach in their area in 30+ years.

Talk107 achieved four per cent in less than two. The problem was, with a TSA of only one million, it needed at least eight-to-nine per cent just to pay the bills (and that’s without Alex’s ‘black breaking’ show fees). Not enough potential listeners = not enough money.

Why did Kelvin bid for it in the first place? – who knows! Why pitch projected audiences of 12-14 per cent? Because you wouldn’t get the franchise if you didn’t.

A lot of good people and courageous ownership, but not enough potential listeners. End of story, unfortunately (and, a lot of smug, eejit doom-mongers on web forums who couldn’t get a job in Radio Shack, never mind a radio station – I can’t wait to read their great ideas when pitched to Ofcom).

Good luck to them all in 2009!  Including Alex.

Peter Gillespie