Liverpool used to have its own commercial radio stations. Sadly, by this time next year it will have none.
And this is a crying shame in a vibrant city that has its own personality and unique creativity that’s unmatched and unparalleled by anywhere else.
‘Local’ Liverpool stations for the moment are Juice FM, Radio City, Citytalk and Radio City 2.
Juice FM plays youth orientated pop and new music with an accent on dance, Radio City plays general pop and recent oldies, Radio City 2 is all oldies, and Citytalk is a confused mixture of a repeating news and sports casts, topped up by some occasional cheap to produce talking shows – usually pundits waffling about, well, sport. Ok, not ‘sport’, football. Conversations that are no different nor more informed than any Scousers talking footie in the pub. For the main Citytalk plays music. (Yeah, I know, mad innit!)
So, all stations are of course on DAB, with Juice, City and Citytalk also on FM, and Radio City 2 on AM.
Ok, so what’s happening. Let me explain.
Well, firstly, Liverpool’s Juice FM is being made ready to become a network outlet of London’s Capital Radio. This means that all programming will come from London, with, most likely, an opt out for a locally originating breakfast show, which is what happened to all the other stations around the UK that suddenly became Capital. Capital’s breakfast shows all follow exactly the same generic format, play exactly the same songs, and give the illusion of ‘localness’ by having ‘entertainment’ speech content that mentions the local region within it.
In contrast, the Juice FM we have for now is all predominantly locally originated, taking an evening networked show and a few others at the weekend. The presenters are ‘locals’ and play in the clubs and are known around Liverpool outside of their ‘radio’ base. There are programmes that focus on fast moving interviews and showcasing of unsigned local artists, or even signed local artists who want to communicate with the home crowd.
Typical of this is the excellent Jay Hynd and Ellie Phillips Sunday night late ‘1 Crazy Gig’ show. Both Jay and Emma are local personalities, and present on Liverpool TV station Bay TV, as well as involve themselves in local events and charities. Their show is, to me, exactly what local music radio should be.
The point being that Juice FM is a Liverpool radio station. This time next year it’ll be a London radio station with a generic non-local sound. And that’s pretty disgusting.
Radio City is already mainly a generic non-local sound. The majority of the programmes come from Manchester and are shared across dozens of other stations in North England and beyond.
The problem with this is that nothing about the output reflects the diversity, individuality or personality of Liverpool in the way it once did. Not even the songs played are chosen to reflect local preferences or trends. Everybody across ‘the North’ gets exactly the same, despite not all being the same. Well, of course, the all important adverts are ‘local’, and the jingles fired off in Manchester will say the local name and location of each station carrying the network, in order to give that all important illusion of the local station still existing.
Similar happens with Radio City 2. In Manchester it’s Key 2, in Leeds it’s Radio Aire 2, etc., etc. But really it is one set of generic programming from a ‘Greatest Hits Network’ with local station idents or pre-recorded opening words of a sentence jemmied in so that the illusion of localness is maintained. ‘Jemmied’ in you ask? Yeah, as in a pre-recorded voice of the current presenter, “It’s Radio City 2…” will go out in Liverpool, “It’s Radio Aire 2…” in Leeds, followed by the rest of the sentence ‘live’ for the remainder of the ‘link’.
Indeed, the pre-recorded ‘local’ sentence opener “It’s Radio City…” or “It’s Radio Aire…” also goes out on the networked programming on the main ‘heritage’ stations carrying generic pop programming. Usually it sounds very disjointed and odd.
Juice is owned by Global. The three City stations are owned by Bauer. The Bauer way is to pretend localness by doing this personalised link opener thing, whilst the Global way is to just say fuck it and use the word Capital a lot. That is the most heartbreaking thing about the demise of Juice FM. It’ll just be the national Capital.
Radio City started in 1974, and it immediately came into existence with a commitment to providing match commentary for both Liverpool FC and Everton FC. Liverpudlians love their football with a passion not seen in other cities. Bauer has now decided to drop all match commentary, thus reducing even more of the ‘local’ identity of the ‘City’ radio stations. Until recently, ‘Radio City Sport’ would provide match commentary on both Radio City and Citytalk, with split commentary when both Liverpool and Everton were playing. From now on, nothing.
Citytalk is a strange station. Even stranger with no football commentary. It occupies an FM frequency doing virtually nothing day in day out, only coming into its own when it’s match commentary time. Ah, now there’s no footie. Despite the name including the word ‘talk’ the majority of the content is old Elton John songs, and what talk there is is not engaging in the slightest.
Bauer is hopeful that it can flip Citytalk over to the AM transmitter, currently carrying the generic Radio City 2, and flip Radio City 2 over to FM. This would leave Liverpool with two Bauer stations on FM, both carrying generic programming from Manchester, Radio City (popish) and Radio City 2 (oldies). This, choice wise, is probably better than what we have now for those without digital radios.
In many ways it makes sense to bury Citytalk over on AM. The ‘Greatest Hits network’ masquerading as Radio City 2 in Liverpool has virtually no listeners. By flipping it to FM, there might be a chance. It would also be on the same level FM playing field as national radio station Smooth, which does have a fair audience in the region, and is what it sounds a lot like. The sweetener offered to Ofcom in order for them to ok the change (do they ever refuse the radio borg any requests to provide completely different programming to that which originally won the licence? I think not!) is that Radio City 2 will have opt out ‘local’ programming at peak times. You know the drill, ‘breakfast’ and ‘drive’. For now.
What the longer term strategy for Citytalk might be is not obvious. The station is pointless and nobody is listening to it outside of match commentaries, so why keep it going now there are no match commentaries? Maybe it will shuttle off to AM for a few years and then when absolutely nobody is listening, Bauer will just hand the AM licence back to Ofcom and nobody will even notice that it’s gone.
Speaking of Absolute, I had half assumed that Bauer’s Absolute Radio would be appearing on Citytalk’s frequency, not Radio City 2. They killed Planet Rock over in the West Midlands and wanged Absolute on the FM frequency there instead. I actually think that would have worked for Liverpool’s older audiences too on the current Citytalk FM frequency.
However, it all rather depressingly leaves Liverpool with no actual local commercial radio. I realise we’re not the first city to lose our ‘local’ radio stations, and we won’t be the last, but I am particularly gutted by the loss of Juice. Juice really was local commercial radio for Liverpool, and as a model should have been copied in other distinct cities and towns where personality and character define the inhabitants. It should not be so brutally killed off.