THE solid brick walls, the picture window looking out over Edinburgh, the open-plan room with glossy modern kitchen and Chesterfield sofas, the black and white print of Sean Connery on the wall – it could be a tenement flat in the city’s New Town, owned by a young couple, probably lawyers on their way up the career ladder.
These walls, however, are on wheels, the kitchen folds up and is pushed out of sight, the sofas quickly manhandled out the way, almost in imitation of an advert for a well known Swedish furniture company. Open the “front door” and you walk into a hive of activity: the STV Edinburgh office, a small space packed with journalists, researchers, producers and digital gurus. To the left is a windowed transmission gallery watching the channel’s output and the plush flat is the new studio space for Edinburgh’s latest brush with a TV channel all of its own.
Tonight at 7pm, STV Edinburgh goes live. No longer will the Capital just have the odd news bulletin filled with city-based stories on “Channel 3” as insiders call it (normal folk just say STV) it will have its own evening magazine sofa show, The Fountainbridge Show, showcasing city chefs, bands and people, its own documentaries, Edinburgh’s Murder Mysteries, and Peter and Roughie’s Football Show will also now cast its four eyes over the Capital’s sports scene.
It’s been 15 years since the city last had a television station launched to cover its daily goings-on. Back then it was the Trinity Mirror newspaper group behind Edinburgh L!VE, which was launched in a blaze of publicity but struggled to attract advertising and, ultimately, viewers as only those with cable TV could tune in.
“The whole media scene is different now. There are many more channels and people are used to seeking out channels that they want to watch rather than sitting with the traditional ones,” says channel editor Paul Hughes. “We’ve already launched STV Glasgow with a similar format and according to the Barb ratings it’s getting 600,000 viewers a month. We’re hoping for around 300,000 for Edinburgh.”
Certainly “localism” is proving a major trend in the media. Television companies have launched websites targeting city or small regional areas while blogs and social media such as YouTube have given wannabe reporters and commentators the ability to get their views and opinions out to the public. The new channel, which is in partnership with Edinburgh’s Napier University, will, says Hughes, tap into that. “Edinburgh on TV to date has been the Royal Mile in August and the Hogmanay fireworks,” he says. “The channel will be reporting on Edinburgh the whole year. Our licence from Ofcom is for 12 years, we’ve 30 new staff here – it’s a big investment, and we want to show the people of Edinburgh we’re serious about speaking to them and covering issues that they’re interested in.
“The Fountainbridge Show [the studio is based there] is not news, it’s a magazine show so while we will talk about the big stories of the day, it’s about the life of the city.
“There will be plenty of fun and interaction and we’ll have different chefs in every night cooking, bands, what’s on and two live hits every night from the streets.”
STV Glasgow launched last June, but the plans for the Edinburgh midday to midnight channel have been ongoing for more than a year. That included the recruitment of the station’s presenters. Hand-picked by 42-year-old Hughes – whose own background includes working on ITV Westminster and BBC Parliament channels – they include Ewen Cameron, former Heart and Real Radio presenter, and Hayley Matthews, who has worked for Talk Radio and on STV’s The Nightshift.
Both are Edinburgh born and bred and have an easy repartee as they sit on the sofas. Cameron, originally from Wester Hailes, a former WHEC and Tynecastle pupil and a Hearts season ticket holder, is at 42, older in the tooth than most when starting a TV career.
Married and with three kids, he is thrilled to be working in his hometown. “Though my kids are mortified I’ll embarrass them on TV now rather than radio,” he jokes.
Hayley is from Portobello originally and the 34-year-old mum-of-one ended up doing “a million jobs” from courier to receptionist before getting onto a radio broadcasting course at the former Telford College.
“I started at Talk Radio, then Real Radio. Then I just started The Nightshift with STV when I had a baby and I thought things might stop for me, but they haven’t. It’s great to be working in Edinburgh, being able to put Edinburgh on the television.” Perhaps unsurprisingly both city channels will be screening much of the same content including Polish subtitled drama (apparently snatched from the clutches of BBC Four) and re-runs of Take the High Road at teatime, as well as Taggart and Rebus. But, says Paul, the channels are very different in their original broadcasting because they are all about their own cities.
“Edinburgh is well known for its cultural and political institutions but there’s so much more happening and we want to show that.
“I moved here to launch the channel and it’s been fantastic and I’ve discovered my family were originally from here.
“I always loved the Grassmarket but recently I took my wife for dinner to the Mussel and Steak Bar and they seated us upstairs in the new area – and that was my great grandfather’s old house.
“I was sitting eating my dinner where he once lived. That’s how magical Edinburgh is, and it’s what we want to get on to the screen.”
• STV Edinburgh will broadcast on Freeview channel 23, Sky 117 and Virgin 159 and will be available to watch live on STVPlayer. Viewers will have to retune their televisions to pick up the Freeview signal for channel 23.
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STV is not the first to launch a local television channel for Edinburgh.
Back in 1997 Edinburgh L!VE hit cable viewers’ channel 18 with a vibrant mix of colourful jackets, seat-of-the-pants outdoor broadcasts and the News McBunny. The station was part of a nationwide plan by Trinity Mirror to launch local channels in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow after the London channel appeared to do well – perhaps because of topless darts and the weather in Norwegian. However it broke new ground as being the first UK national 24-hour television channel when it started in 1995. The Edinburgh channel was less racy and focused on local news, weather and sport – with former Hearts player George Wright presenting a football show.