Talk Radio makes pitch to steal the low ground

US-inspired `shockjock' format set to hit the airwaves. Rhys Williams reports
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The Independent Online
Hiring the person once described as the "the epitome of broadcasting inarticulacy", along with the man voted "the personality most people would like taken off the screen", is not the most obvious way to chase ratings in the increasingly competitive radio market.

But in signing up Terry Christian, presenter of The Word, and Jeremy Beadle, arch-recycler of home videos and old jokes, that is precisely what Talk Radio UK, Britain's newest national commercial radio station, has done.

Launched on AM on Tuesday, Talk Radio is looking for about 4 million listeners in its first year with what the makers are describing as the "sort of radio which makes you feel something - interest, annoyance, amusement ... anything as long as it's not boredom and apathy".

The pitch is not so much middle-brow as below the waist, with a line- up that also includes former Kiss FM "shockjock" Caesar the Geezer, Tommy Boyd, original radio agony aunt Anna Raeburn, Vanessa Feltz and Scott Chisolm. All are making a determined effort to steal the low ground with chat and phone-ins on "issues which touch listeners' lives".

Strapped with a £3.8m annual cash payment for the licence to the Radio Authority, Ron Onions, a former LBC executive, believes the station will have little left for high-quality programming. He says: "It'll be cheap and cheerful chat."

Speech is the biggest single radio format in the US. Its most notorious strand is "shockjock radio", widely seen as the inspiration for Talk Radio UK.

Shockjock presenters, such as the right-wing Rush Limbaugh, verbally mug their listeners with a mixture of prejudice and bile. The audience generally replies with interest.

Limbaugh used to cut off pro-abortion callers with the sound of a vacuum cleaner and a woman's scream.

John Aumonier, managing director of Talk Radio, said yesterday that similar shock tactics will not work in Britain. "Number one, the market does not want it. Two, the regulatory authority would not allow it."

He said while listeners accustomed to the cosy familiarity of British radio will find Talk's direct style "profoundly shocking", they should not be offended by the content.