Heat radio: Your ears will be burning...

Britain's best-known celebrity weekly has found a second home – on the digital airwaves. And it's designed to distract you at work. By Sophie Morris
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To anyone who manages to get through the week without Heat magazine's merry-go-round of gossip and celebrity, Lucie Cave's description of Heat Radio, which opens for business tomorrow, might sound slightly unsettling. "It's Heat in surround sound!" beams the diminutive features editor, as she tackles a shopper outside Topshop on London's Oxford Street to interview her for "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", a style segment that Cave is recording with Heat stylist Bronagh Meere for the magazine's new digital radio station.

Both women are confident that the visual allure of Heat – last week's features included a look inside Britney's glam new home and photographic "proof" that Posh is losing her looks – will translate to radio without a hiccup. The magazine ventured online earlier this year, with Heatworld.com, where avid Heat fans can get up-to-the-minute celebrity and fashion gossip and watch interviews and clips, such as Kelly Osbourne interviewing her friend Amy Winehouse and a scene from the new Take That musical. How will Heat fare on its excursion into the brave new-ish world of digital radio fare when stripped of its crucial visuals?

Cave and Meere prove that they have the gift of the gab when they ad-lib a phone in, bantering about Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud's new short hair and the dos and don'ts of fake tanning. One senses that these women know about such things – they both have serious tans – but they also have the sense of humour that has made Heat magazine such a success. Cave ribs Meere for her streaky tan and they admit, as we scan the high street in search of serious fashion faux pas, that, just like the C- and D- list celebrities who provide much of the magazine's fodder, they're not style icons.

"We're not pretending we get it right," says Cave. "Far from it. It's just about meeting real people and finding out where they get their clothes from. It's not about people who are necessarily part of the celebrity or media world who are surrounded by clothes and fashion, but people who look to these worlds. Mark Frith (the editor of Heat ) always says, 'What would 25-year-old-Julie from Norwich think of this?'"

As far as Andria Vidler, the managing director of Magic 105.4 FM who is leading the Heat Radio launch at Emap, is concerned, 25-year-old Julie from Norwich thinks that there is a gap in the market for a radio station that reflects her love of Heat. "If you look at the TV world, there's a lot of interest in celebrity gossip and news for a particular target audience who love the ongoing soap story of 100 to 150 celebs who are in the public eye, and no radio station does it. Heat is the strongest brand that people who love that type of news will follow."

The gap has not arisen solely from a thirst among young women for rolling celebrity news, but because workers are increasingly listening to their favourite radio stations online at work, instead of settling for whatever the rest of the office wants to tune in to. Peak digital listening time is in the afternoon and early evening when people are still at work, rather than in the mornings as they have breakfast and commute. So Heat Radio is turning standard programming on its head and broadcasting its flagship show in the afternoons. "There is an audience who listen online at work," says Vidler, "but you have to bear in mind it is a different environment. With Radio 4 and Radio 2, you might be able to sit down for a cup of tea and just listen to the radio, which is entertaining and all-absorbing. We need to create a radio station where a woman can do things as well as listen."

Heat Radio's two-and-a-half hour afternoon slot kicks off tomorrow at 2pm and is presented by Rachel Hopper, who is joining from Heart 106.2 and is a regular on GMTV's showbiz sofa. Each show will have a theme that will work around celebrity news, gossip, guests, competitions and music. Ben Shephard is crossing over from Magic to host Hot or Not, a weekly review of film, DVD and book releases with celebrity guests. This week, the Big Brother twins Samantha and Amanda will be Heat Radio's reporters on the street, with challenges to complete each day; there is a competition to win a walk-on part in Prison Break. French and Saunders and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson are also booked in for the first week, and Paul Coyte, the morning presenter, is hoping to bag an interview with Trinny and Susannah.

Vidler is convinced that digital radio's capacity for speaking directly to a clearly defined group of listeners will help the station be a stand-alone success, not just a complement to the magazine. "We're certainly not treating it as if it's a small radio station," she says. She is aiming for a weekly audience of 600,000 for the first year and 850,000 to one million by the end of the second. (The BBC's digital stations 1Xtra and 6Music both pull in fewer than 500,000; BBC7 attracts just over 800,000.)

Vidler is already working on next summer's launch of Closer Radio. So are we on the cusp of a trend where lots of magazines jump from print to online to radio to pin down their dwindling readerships wherever they are? Vidler is unsure. "Whether it's appropriate for all magazines I don't know," she says.

If the Heat team get their way, they could well cause as much of a stir as Facebook when people start shirking their work to focus on why berets are the next big trend and turbans are tricky to pull off. "Nobody's going to be doing any work at all!" laughs Cave. Would 25-year-old Julie from Norwich be in favour of that?