In My Opinion: Greg Russell: Is it time to TALK about radio in Scotland?

I KNOW that many of us who’ve been involved in the media in Scotland over the years have had discussions similar to what you’re about to read.

And I know that a number of us have witnessed the rise and fall of speech-based radio stations in Scotland.

There may be an even smaller number reading this who actually worked with one of Scotland’s ill-fated talk stations.

The all-speech medium may have long disappeared from our airwaves, but isn’t now exactly the time we should be thinking about relaunching it?

Here we are, about to make the most historic political decision in generations, and the debate is being played out in 15-second soundbites across our commercial radio network, competing for air time with the latest ‘celebrity news’.

This is a time when talk radio in Scotland should be making its biggest impact, ever. Instead, it remains mute.

At the moment, we have BBC Radio Scotland, which has a fair bit of speech, but which is also trying to be everything to everybody. Good Morning Scotland doesn’t quite do it for me (apologies to Mr Naughtie). Drafting in a presenter from a London-based programme for the duration of the referendum campaign is more than a little patronising.

The problems that faced Scot FM and talk107 are well-documented – one couldn’t establish its identity and neither could hold their audience. Both of these came, and went, before the independence debate reached its current stage. I’m not saying that would have saved them, but I’m fairly certain it would have given them a better chance of reaching the audience they both craved.

It may be too late to launch a speech station ahead of the referendum, but what about once the result is declared?

Look at Communicorp’s speech station in Ireland, Newstalk. It faces healthy competition from RTE, but its breakfast show still manages to pull in 133,000 listeners, according to the latest figures, reported here.

Its market share is 4.6 per cent. It may not seem much alongside RTE Radio’s 23 per cent, but compare it to LBC and its 1.2 per cent market share and two per cent reach for the last six months of 2013 (as reported, here) and you get an idea of how well it is doing.

Now that Communicorp is establishing a presence in Scotland (via its purchase – pending approval from the competition authorities – of a bunch of stations, including Capital FM Scotland), would it be possible for a new speech station here to link up with Newstalk to either exchange, or work in partnership on some programmes?

It is just a thought, but it might be one way of helping ensure that a fledgling Scottish speech station (Scot-Talk?) had a better chance of survival than its predecessors.

Greg Russell is a broadcaster and journalist, a former BBC Scotland reporter and co-presenter of Good Morning Scotland. He has worked extensively in independent local radio and is the owner of broadcast news agency and PR comms and media consultancy, MediaNet Scotland Ltd.