Murdoch tunes into Talk

Opposition to the media mogul's bid for the radio station is mounting
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The Independent Online
WITH the deadline for bids for Talk Radio expiring tomorrow evening, there are moves afoot in the House of Commons to stop media mogul Rupert Murdoch from extending his empire into commercial radio.

Last week Murdoch's News International announced it would be part of a consortium bidding for the station, led by former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie. In a letter to Culture Sec- retary Chris Smith on Friday, Nicholas Winterton, MP, chairman of the all-party media group, called on the Government to intervene to stop the consortium taking control of Talk. He said that if the MacKenzie bid was successful, Murdoch companies would gain "not only control of one of only three such independent national radio stations, but also guaranteed access to digital capacity and potential control of a digital radio multiplex". He went on to bemoan the prospect of a "dumbing down" of Talk Radio's output under the leadership of Mr MacKenzie, who used to run the tabloid TV station L!ve TV. "The possibility of the introduction of the radio equivalent of topless darts, news bunnies and bouncing dwarves fills me with despair."

There are at least two other known bidders for Talk Radio: the US-based media company Jaycor and a five-member management buy-out team headed by the station's managing director, Paul Robinson. The management team threw their hat in the ring when they discovered Mr Mackenzie, who resigned as managing director of the Mirror Group last Monday, was in the running.

It is as yet unclear what the Government could do to stop a Murdoch bid. Mr Winterton wants Mr Smith to refer the matter to the Radio Authority and the President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett, who could intervene on competition grounds.

Talk Radio came up for grabs in March when CLT-Ufa announced it wanted to sell its controlling 65 per cent stake to concentrate on its UK TV interests. The MacKenzie consortium has an advantage because one of it members, the MVI venture capital outfit, is Talk's other major shareholder and has first rights to match any offer made for the CLT-Ufa stake.

Talk Radio is set to make a small profit this month for the first time since it started in 1995. The station has since been brought up-market by Mr Robinson, who joined Talk Radio in 1996.