It was exciting before the franchise was won. Liverpool was going to get another commercial radio station. The incumbents, Bauer Media, who owned the heritage station Radio City, managed to become the licensees. When the station eventually launched it was grandiose and fairly obviously lacking in cohesive direction. It didn’t last, reinvented itself, didn’t last and reinvented itself.
Some might argue that Liverpool’s City Talk today is now the commercial equivalent to the DAB 5 Live Sports Extra pop up service. Indeed, City Talk will ‘pop up’ with commentary and (I’m told) some very good sports (well, football) programming when there’s a match or two on and there’s a need for an additional outlet for commentary. Aha, the Eureka moment. The city boasts two major football teams and that’s one too many for just the single FM outlet of Radio City when both teams are playing at the same time.
The rest of the City Talk output is unbearably long commercial breaks occasionally interrupted by unannounced safe very old ‘rock/pop’ records, well, the same tired Elton John, David Bowie, and Queen records. The songs are never segued. There are usually painfully long gaps between songs, and a few bars of the beginning of a song will play and then rapidly stop if there’s a top of the hour news sequence about to start. Apart from the commercials and safe old pop songs, there’s a repeated 7-8 minute pre-recorded news, weather and sports sequence, refreshed every hour, which plays out two or three times each hour.
Sometimes yesterday’s review of the newspapers clipped from the breakfast ‘show’ gets randomly played instead of the repeating news, weather and sports sequence during the day. The breakfast ‘show’ itself is all of the above, plus a named host waffling for ages at 20 past and 20 to each hour about what’s on the front pages of the newspapers, or waffling for even longer, sometimes joined by a guest waffler, about what’s on the back pages (sports) of the newspapers. Sometimes they waffle about football without even mentioning the back or front of the newspapers. It always sounds like its a desperate attempt to fill to time and to provide ‘content’ that isn’t yet another Elton John, David Bowie or Queen record.
Some might argue all of this is simply a very cheap ‘holding’ service awaiting the next bit of use for football commentary. Some might argue it would be more honest to be like 5 Live Sports Extra and put a looping announcement out, but I guess that might not be easily accompanied by the relentless commercials.
The original execution of ‘the talk format’ was, I would imagine, very expensive to produce, and it certainly wasn’t of general appeal to people in the area, comprising far too many diverse and specialist programmes. I seem to recall one of the incarnations of London’s LBC during the years of not being called LBC, made this identical mistake.
City Talk then dumped the more ‘highbrow’ format and we entered a period of ‘nearly’ being like LBC, but again the programming tended to be far too ‘complex’ and bitty, despite the hiring of top talent like Duncan Barkes, and was rarely suited to the more loyal footy loving Scouse audience. In this context, it should have been more like the current and more ‘traditional’ Liverpool-oriented style 10pm weekdays offering that’s simulcast on Radio City and City Talk from Pete Price, which has a loyal and vocal following.
Building backwards from Pete Price and modelling it on LBC, City Talk would have worked and could still. However, considering that a large number of Radio City’s hours are networked in from Manchester, I can’t see any interest in trying to make City Talk have any function beyond its ‘pop-up’ football commentary service. Some might argue that this was always its destiny from day one.