The recent buyout of The Wireless Group by News Corp has caused quite a stir in the commercial radio world and perhaps raised more than the odd concerned eye brow at the BBC. The purchase includes a strong portfolio of stations, including talkSPORT and the newly launched Talk Radio and Virgin. The deal may give fresh impetus to the latter two stations in their bid to build audiences from scratch. For talkSPORT this could be very exciting times indeed.
During the Euros, the station produced excellent coverage throughout, covering all the games across France, albeit with a far smaller budget than its BBC rival 5 Live. As with TV, the BBC tends to reach a larger audience for various historic reasons (not just because of the adverts) but the BBC has more staff and bigger budgets to do its job.
The arrival of News Corp could see this playing field leveled slightly. Across its portfolio there are strong links with the newly acquired brands in the radio market, which could help increase the radio audiences. Commercial radio is half the industry but the BBC gets more attention and more money (in terms of investment and resourcing) but creativity is often more abundant in commercial radio, if it is allowed to flourish.
A perfect illustration of this happened on the eve of Euro 2016. TalkSPORT's Sports Bar, presented by Andy Goldstein and Jason Cundy, decided to do a 'future phone in'. Callers were invited to pretend it was the night of England's last group game and give their 'reaction' to what (might have) happened. Radio is a lot about the power of imagination and this demonstrated it perfectly. The callers played the game and it was fun and entertaining - particularly one Welsh caller, who talked about their success and England's failure. A soothsayer of sorts as it turns out.
I feel sure that 5 Live would shy away from such an idea - and even if it felt it was worth trying, the number of forms and paperwork involved in agreeing the decision would mean the programme might get the go ahead by the next World Cup at the earliest!
In recent years the BBC, and 5 Live inparticular, has been fixated with trying to compete with talkSPORT for some of its three million audience. But it has five million listeners of its own and it should concentrate on keeping them and improving its rather confused daytime output. In the last two years 5 Live's schedule has become messy and baffling. Now is the time for the likes of talkSPORT to take advantage, especially with extra backing from News Corp. 5 Live could also come under increased threat from LBC and, as it builds its brand, Talk Radio. Exciting times indeed for speech radio in the UK.