Talk Radio sets sail on mission to make waves

Rhys Williams reports on the launch of Britain's brashest broadcaster
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The Independent Online
"The BBC is saying goodbye to listeners all the time," says a Pathe News-style voiceover as something Elgar-ish fades into the background. "Goodbye!"

The clock flickers to 06.00 and Talk Radio UK kicks in from test transmissions to the real thing with Samantha Meah and Sean Bolger - "the queen and king of gossip" with the "inside leg on celebrities".

"What an exciting day," says Sean. "What an exciting programme," adds Sam. "Are you shocking?" asks Sean. "No," replies Sam. "Are you shocking?" "Shocking? I'm barely breathing at this hour."

Sam is helpless. Sean to the rescue: "Chocolate - can it improve your sex life or does it leave a nasty stain on the sheets?" More of that later, he promises. But first, Europe. Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission, outlines plans to scrap internal border controls within the EU. "I think that's great," says Sean before explaining how he once had enormous difficulty getting back into Britain. Sam wonders if you can travel in Europe without a passport. "I'm not sure," she concludes.

Sean and Sam are the first voices to be heard from Talk Radio UK, Britain's newest national commercial radio station. Based around guests, phone-ins and presenters who act more like on-air columnists, Talk Radio is looking to win 4 million listeners in its first year.

Amid Sean and Sam's Euro-babble, the network's advance publicity drifts back. "Our mission is to create the sort of radio where you think you might have missed something if you tune in late ... The sort of radio which makes you feel something - interest, annoyance, amusement . . . anything as long as it's not just boredom, indifference and apathy."

09.00: Another hour, another issue - joyriding. "Where does the buck stop?" asks Sean. "Where does it stop?" echoes Sam. The rapport is eerie.

A couple of hours later and Scott Chisolm, a former Sky News presenter, is wrestling with a troublesome switchboard on his UK Today show. At least, he hasn't punched it yet. "John, you're on Talk Radio ..." Silence. He takes us through immigration ("do you feel deluged?"), welfare scroungers ("how can this be right?") and the veal trade ("I used to raise calves - they are inherently stupid, they can't think, drink or play Scrabble").

John Aumonier, the station's managing director, promises radio at the edge of opinion and sensibilities - a boast not yet fulfilled, according to Ron Onions, a former LBC executive and speech radio veteran. "There's nothing new," he said.

"Despite the hype, they are essentially regrinding existing formats, There are already people doing it better. It's not uninteresting, but you've got to do better than that."

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