Virgin 1215 - launch

Oct 10, 2011, 08:26 PM

National commercial radio was a long time coming to the UK. Had it been established sensibly on FM as radio itself grew, then the history of commercial radio might have been altogether more sensible. Vacillating government policy, regulatory caution and, in fairness, a defensive industry meant it was not until the Broadcasting Act 1990 that the way was paved for three national stations. They were prescribed broadly by format, and licences were awarded on a cash-bid basis.

The second national licence was offered the 1197 kHz and 1215 kHz frequencies, which had been given up by BBC Radio 3. 1215, of course, had hitherto been the crackly, yet successful, home for Radio One, where its wavelength 247 was used as its title.

The station launched at 12.15pm on 30 April 1993 with a cover version of the Steppenwolf song "Born to be Wild", recorded by INXS.

Richard Branson, in whose name the Virgin brand was used, was the first voice to be heard, live from the Virgin Megastore in Manchester, with Programme Director, Richard Skinner the first voice from London.

Virgin wanted FM; and it successfully applied for a London FM licence when the 105-108 MHz space was freed from the emergency services and the likes. The licence award came as a surprise. Onlookers expected a more niche format from a cautious regulator, but arguably Members had been more forward-looking and presumably considered that an alternative popular format would broaden listening choice for more people. David Frost's voice launched London on 105.8 FM on 10 April 1995.

The station's ownership has often been on the change. Staff in the great One Golden Square premises have become rather used to it. In May 1997, Capital Radio suggested it had agreed to acquire Virgin Radio in an £87 million deal. The competition authorities' intervention meant delays and an alternate bid from Apax Partners and Paribas, with Virgin Group retaining a 20% stake, won the day, as announced on 8 December 1997. Thus saw the formation of the Ginger Media Group.

The company was again sold to the Scottish Media Group for £225 million in March 2000, after which time Ginger's hero Chris Evans left the station. After another stop-start process, on 12 April 2007, it was announced that SMG plc were to sell Virgin Radio to TIML Golden Square Limited, a subsidiary of The Times of India, for £53.2 million with £15 million set aside for rebranding.

TIML were given 90 days to rebrand the station; and I recall sitting at my desk overlooking the lovely Golden Square to help with that move to Absolute Radio.

I always say that the DNA of a station is there from birth, and the slightly piratical feel of Golden Square, although sensibly dimmed from its destructive excesses is still lovably existent.