01:03 GMT20 October 2020
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    Radio stations in Britain have seen a dramatic fall in listening figures since the 1990s, despite the invention of digital radio. But podcasting is booming and now Rupert Murdoch is investing heavily in a new radio station which is aiming to take on the BBC head-to-head.

    Australian-American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch plans to launch Times Radio later this summer and has already hired a roster of top presenters, most of whom have been poached from other broadcasters.

    This week The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn, became the latest big name to sign with Times Radio, joining the BBC’s veteran political correspondent John Pienaar and Michael Portillo, a former Conservative government minister in the 1990s who has since carved out a career in the media.

    ​The DAB station, run by the Murdoch-owned Wireless Group, will launch on the Sound Digital platform and promises to be free of advertising.

    Graham Winters, 58, reads The Times and said he was looking forward to the launch of the radio station: “I’m probably in the target demographic and the fact that it is ad-free is very appealing to me.”

    ​He said he currently listens to Talk Radio, which is also owned by the Wireless Group, and liked Julia Hartley-Brewer’s breakfast show - which is ad-free - as well as Nick Ferrari on rival station LBC.

    Mr Winters said he was impressed by the calibre of the talent Times Radio had recruited: “Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Five Live on Sundays is always worth a listen and that is what first caught my attention. Since then they have added more big names.”

    ​News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks told the Press Gazette: "We acquired Wireless in 2016 with a clear ambition to bring their audio expertise to our newsbrands."

    “The Times and The Sunday Times deliver world-class journalism to a substantial and highly engaged audience and Times Radio will create a new speech radio outlet to reach an even broader audience who want quality reporting and trusted, expert commentary in real time,” she added.

    Mr Winters said he suspected Times Radio would go head-to-head with BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today and PM programmes.

    ​The Today programme - which is traditionally listened to by top politicians and business people - has seen its audience decline from 7.17 million last year to 6.97 million in the first quarter of this year.

    But it remains the most popular breakfast show and Times Radio will be gunning for a slice of their audience.

    A copy of the March 30 edition of The Times newspaper with the headline May threat to EU terror pact is pictured outside 10 Downing Street in central London on March 30, 2017
    © AFP 2020 / Justin TALLIS
    A copy of the March 30 edition of The Times newspaper with the headline "May threat to EU terror pact" is pictured outside 10 Downing Street in central London on March 30, 2017
    Mr Winters said: "The number of people who listen to the radio has declined over the years. I don't know many people who listen to the radio. But I think there is still an appetite for intelligent political debate."

    The Times prides itself on being the “newspaper of record” but has supported the Conservative Party - apart from the 2001 and 2005 elections when it backed Tony Blair's Labour - since Murdoch bought it in 1981 and it backed Boris Johnson before December’s general election.

    ​Times Radio has also hired Aasmah Mir from the BBC , Stig Abell from LBC and Cathy Newman from Channel Four News and is promoting Matt Chorley, who currently produces the Red Box newsletter for The Times.

    But will Times Radio end up going the same way as Sun Talk, a Murdoch-owned radio station which closed down in 2010 after 15 months?

    Media commentator Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian, said: “If Times Radio is to make its mark as a genuine alternative to the BBC, it will need to persuade the population that it is devoid of Murdochian influence and free from Johnsonian patronage. Having entered into broadcasting territory, that might well prove a difficult trick to pull off.”

    Tags:
    Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, BBC Radio 4 Today, The Times, Rupert Murdoch
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