Apparently there’s a conference today in Liverpool, to discover what’s ‘great’ about radio in Liverpool.
Well, of course, Liverpool only actually has five station based in it, and they, generally speaking try to broadcast to Merseyside and beyond rather than concentrate on ‘Liverpool’. Three of those stations are owned by one company and their playout systems are all co-located. One station is the BBC’s, and the last one is owned by a company with radio stations in other places.
Obviously, transmitters carry the programming of other stations receivable in Liverpool, including the regionalish Real Radio, national Smooth Radio, Classic, talkSPORT, and the BBC National services.
A good FM radio in Liverpool can receive most of the Greater Manchester stations, and can usually pick up smaller stations covering areas of the Wirral, or up the coast in Southport, parts of Lancashire, Wigan, etc. In that context, if people in Liverpool don’t mind listening to stations not aimed at them, designed for other communities, or regional or country-wide programming, there is a kind of extended ‘choice’ available of mainly exactly the same thing, but maybe playing the same songs at slightly different times to each other.
So, back to Liverpool itself.
The three stations clumped together in one place and owned by Bauer consist of a part-time AM oldies service, Magic 1548, that mainly is automated, carrying networked programming, or might just as well. It is the usual unlistened to oldies service rotating round back to back old songs that everybody knows and everybody’s heard a billion times.
Then there’s Radio City 96.7, the heritage station. Providing a safe and typical standard commercial pop-radio delivery, it rotates through various daytime presentation formats, from the ‘pop-with-a-pratt’ style where an inane presenter tries to talk about trivial things, or make listeners laugh, usually with a female sidekick to giggle stupidly in the right places when she’s not stumbling over the traffic report, through to the ‘shut-the-fuck-up’ style where the presenter pops in a couple of times an hour to make long drawn out essential announcements ahead of playing an extensively long number of commercials. Radio City is very commercial heavy. A bit like Capital Radio in London, it retains a large audience because it’s always been there. If it were a brand new service it wouldn’t stand a chance.
Finally, and also co-located in the ‘tower’ that is part of the landscape of Liverpool, is CityTalk 105.9.
Inappropriately, this station is mainly not talk. It’s mainly a computer playing out unannounced songs, strangely not too dissimilar to those on Magic. During most of the day, a generic 5 to 10 minute news and sport bulletin is re-recorded every hour, and left to play out on repeat, with the gaps inbetween when it is not actually playing, being filled by unannounced songs. At peak times inbetween these, about three times an hour a ‘presenter’ will appear instead of music playing. He will woffle on about nothing, usually trailing the pre-recorded features coming up, or talking about football with others who just happen to be there because they work in the City tower. CityTalk, like Radio City has a phenomenal amount of commercials.
CityTalk is a lost opportunity. When it first started it had a most bizarre format of carefully put together programming that might rival a regional BBC service, alongside personality presenters who would take phone calls, interview locals, and generally provide a rather expensive talking radio format. The demographic it seemed to be aiming at was all over the place, with an output as varied as a very poor man’s Radio 4 might ever be.
There was then a cull and a lot of the highly produced specialist programming disappeared to be replaced with strip talk formatting and music. This was the start of the move over to playing the oldies that are normally a reserve of the AM station.
And finally, all the personality presenters were culled and the automated news bulletin service with music took over. It’s very sad that no attempt was ever made to go down the LBC in London format route. With a tiny bit of tinkering to make it Liverpoolish instead of Londonish, I think it would have won. Instead, there’s just this ghost-ship left repeating the same news bulletin over and over again.
When it comes to local sport, then either or both of City and CityTalk will be thrown over to constant babble and match commentary. I’m told this is of a very high quality nature.
Away from the City tower we also have local match commentary on BBC Radio Merseyside 95.8. This is also of a high quality, comparing much more favourably to the standard BBC Merseyside output. Daytimes are aimed at the over 70 year olds, and are mainly staffed by people of a near similar age. A lot have been there since Marconi invented radio.
Everything about BBC Merseyside is very safe and comfortable, the songs are very old, and appear at regular points inbetween the elongated woffle of the presenters. The presenters will, from time to time, deal with local issues, especially when giving a free plug to one of the many highly arts grant funded projects who are always allowed to consume hours of BBC output promoting their evening of nose-flute dancing for lesbian whales, but is more usually talking about national issues. Evenings, until the cut-backs cause mass-culling, are the place for generic programming like a person coming in and playing his old folk records, that has no local relevance and no audience.
Finally, there’s UTV’s Juice FM 107.6. This is very youth oriented, although daytimes try to compete with Radio City. It’s danceish oriented pop and newish music, but with the presenters and features actually sounding ‘local’. In recent times it’s been allowed an increase in transmitter power, and seems to be successfully, quarter on quarter, building a bigger audience. They claim they play more music than anybody else in Liverpool, which maybe they do, but it does mean that most of their output consists of back-to-back songs like somebody’s left an iPod workout playlist just playing, with a presenter popping up to list what will be played in 20 minutes from now. In lots of ways it’s a local version of the Capital network format.
Most of the Liverpool stations suffer from the pre-recorded constipated voice disease. This is where inbetween the songs a pre-recorded voice of the station name and strapline is ‘dropped’ on top of the beginning of a song. However, the effects used on the voice always make it sound like it was recorded whilst sitting on the loo straining with constipation. This always sounds completely out of place, but mainly so over on CityTalk, where the guy sounds in terrible pain!
Most of the Liverpool stations, in sync with commercial radio generally, are soulless and personality-less. They are designed to be iPods without skip buttons that apologise for running commercials, rather than radio stations with something unique about them that makes them satisfyingly different to an iPod.
With such a huge young audience dwelling in Liverpool because of the Universities, and the local population having such a high level of unemployed youth to add to that potential, it has always surprised me that Liverpool boasts no pirate radio stations.
It could happily support three of four pirates playing the latest music that kids are listening to, rather than the skimmed pop versions the legal stations grudgingly play.
Hopefully, that will also be the conclusion of those attending the conference. They will call for a pirate Radio Liverpool, and a proper talking radio station to satisfy the over-opinionated Scousers.
Heh, will they heck. They’ll be completely unaware of the truth of what makes radio grate in Liverpool, far too busy staring into their nicely polished hand-held mirrors preening themselves, thinking of their mates giving them their next Sony award, and saying, “Who’s a pretty boy then?”