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Airwaves beware – motormouth James Whale has gone global

It is 9.30pm on a Tuesday and James Whale is in full flow from his Ford studio.

No subject is too far for a talk-show host known for his frank opinions.

Gay sex, the liberation of Zimbabwe and the prospect of Nelson Mandela actually doing something useful in South Africa are a few of the topics on which he has recently aired his views.

His kidney cancer survival, and the charity he set up to research the disease, the NHS postcode lottery, his dyslexia and a hatred of 'green anything' are also subjects which can get an airing.

Whatever has filled the news that day provides another easy target for his comments.

The mixture is proving a hit for digital radio station Play Radio UK where Whale has arrived for the latest stage in a lengthy broadcasting career.

His four-hour Tuesday evening shows from 8pm have proved so popular – with 250,000 hits common – that his broadcast time has been doubled.

He is on air from 8pm on Thursdays as well, to the undoubted delight of the listeners around the world who revel in his straight-talking style.

He said: "I am very excited about being at the beginning of the internet radio revolution.

"I have always been a forerunner. I was on the first commercial radio stations in this country in the 1970s."

Play Radio UK is leading a dramatic change in the nation's listening habits from its first-floor premises in a converted barn in Ford Lane.

A building rooted in the area's agricultural past might seem an unlikely setting for a 21st-century radio station.

But a glorified store cupboard stuffed full of hi-tech equipment provides the clue to Play Radio UK's existence.

This takes the output from its 12 stations – jazz, love, reggae, urban and rock music among them – and feeds them into a fast computer link to a major internet exchange in London.

From there, the contents are put onto the worldwide web for anyone to listen into anywhere on Earth.

And they do. Play Radio UK has devotees in 148 countries. It boasts 3.8 million hits on its website every month.

Of those, nearly 832,000 are individual listeners tuning in through their PCs and mobile phones for almost nine hours a month, courtesy of little gadgets which make internet radio easily accessible.

The numbers are growing all the time. Play Radio UK is set to add another eight to ten stations in the next year.

Website manager Jamie Robertson said: "We play good-quality music straight from CDs. We are trying to change peoples' attitudes and perceptions of internet radio.

"A lot of people think of it as a back-bedroom job with illegally-downloaded music of poor quality.

"The listening figures show audiences are starting to appreciate the difference.

"There are a lot of internet radio stations out there, but we are easily the biggest in the UK. We are somewhere between the local FM stations and the BBC."

The programmes are funded by a few commercials. News is provided from an independent national broadcaster.

He has seen Play Radio UK grow from three stations at its launch in October, 2006 when he joined forces with Lee Moulsdale.

The business really gathered pace when the One4Group, led by managing director Colin Hague, spotted a business opportunity.

He ploughed serious money into creating state-of-the-art premises which have recently expanded into a second studio to cope with the station's growing output.

Play Radio UK now boasts some 40 staff, keeping it on air round the clock. Half of them are presenters. But none boasts the profile of Whale.

The 57-year-old has seemingly courted controversy for much of his broadcasting career from 1974. He shows no sign of changing even if the technology has changed.

"Internet radio is just another form of communication," he said.

"Unlike old-fashioned forms of radio, it is obviously going to be the way forward because it is becoming more widely available.

"The sort of radio I do, and I have done for the past 30 years, is to talk about whatever comes to me.

"It's like the conversation in the bar of your local and the talks people used to have over their garden fences.

"You used to get different opinions in village halls and town halls and at political meetings. But you just don't get that any more.

"People can get that when they tune in to a talk radio show."

They sometimes get more than they expected. Whale's last job broadcasting for talkSPORT ended abruptly two months ago. He was sacked for allegedly calling on his listeners to vote for Boris Johnson as London mayor.

Whale disputes the manner of his departure. Solicitors are involved and it's best not to dwell on the details.

But he does say: "If you are broadcasting three hours a day, five days a week, and you are on the edge – and encouraged to be – you expect to be backed up."

He has gained the unlikely support of Johnson's rival, Ken Livingstone, in a recent interview.

That said, the internet is not the free-for-all it is popularly imagined to be. Whale is still subject to the slander laws which apply to all other broadcasters.

But his arrival at Play Radio UK in mid-May has undoubtedly given him a bigger outlet for his comments. He is no longer constrained within the British borders by the strength of radio transmissions.

"Whale's now gone global," he stated.

"It's like we are taking over from the BBC World Service."

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