Yesterday morning it was announced that Virgin Radio was making a comeback to the British airwaves. The station initially broadcast between 1993 and 2008, before rebranding to become Absolute Radio. With a new team, including Edith Bowman and former Xfm stalwart Tim Cocker, Virgin Radio will return to its original name and begin broadcasting nationwide on DAB on March 30th. Just last week RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) released the latest figures for Radio stations, with listenership across the country on the rise across digital formats and the rebranded Radio X (once Xfm) posting impressive listening figures.
We spoke to Liam Thompson, Programme Director of Virgin Radio to discuss how the revived station will fit into current radio landscape.
Why is Virgin Radio back?
Virgin Radio is an iconic and much-missed brand in UK radio. It exists in countries as far and wide as Thailand, Dubai, Canada and France, and so it’s only right that it has a place on British radio.
Digital radio has also grown massively over the years, with more than 29 million adults today claiming to own a digital radio, up 10% year on year and accounting for 41.9% of all radio listening. A number of digital radio stations now have audiences of a million or more, so there is a huge opportunity for Virgin Radio to bring even greater choice and appeal to these listeners.
Is there anything different about this new version Virgin Radio?
We have no intention of wanting to relive the past, and Virgin Radio will be a new and relevant offering consistent with the ever changing UK radio landscape. The station has been designed to meet the demands of a modern era, rather than attempting to replicate what was successful many years ago.
We’ve got a fresh line-up of presenters, from experienced broadcasters like Edith Bowman who’s presenting the Breakfast Show, to witty comedians like Matt Richardson who’ll be presenting Drivetime – his first radio gig. We plan to bring a little edginess, verve and humour back to the airwaves – not to mention some really great music!
What audience are you trying to cater for?
We feel that there is an opportunity amongst those who feel too old for BBC Radio 1, but not old enough for BBC Radio 2. Our audience will be music-lovers who want to hear great new music, as well as the classics.
What kind of music can we expect on the station?
We’ll be playing a wide range of pop and rock, from the best 80’s and Britpop tunes to the latest artists. We won’t necessarily be chart-focused, but we won’t ignore the chart entirely either, so it’ll be a good mix for music fans. That’s all we can give away for now, so you’ll have to tune in on the 30th March to find out more!
Are we likely to see a variety of genres across the shows?
Each show will have a consistent music style, but there will be plenty of room for different genres and new music. All the presenters share a passion for music and will be given creative freedom to put their own stamp on their shows.
Radio X just posted a huge increase in listeners in the latest RAJAR figures. How will you compete with them?
Radio X’s increase is driven in part by the fact that they are now nationally distributed on digital radio, so it’s really good news for us and proves that music radio on digital is hugely popular. We won’t compete directly with Radio X, but we are confident that our strong line up and playlist will expand choice and prove a strong draw for listeners.
Edith Bowman is a huge coup for the station, what do you hope she will bring to the Breakfast Show?
Edith brings huge passion and energy to breakfast and she absolutely loves music so that will come across on the air. She’s passionate about film, and has great contacts in the entertainment world, so you can guarantee that there will be plenty of big names on the show. She’ll also be the only full-time solo female breakfast presenter currently on national radio, which gives us have a real point of difference to other stations.
The station is going start transmitting on DAB, is there a view to moving onto FM radio?
Digital radio is growing all the time and is widely available as the vast majority of cars now come with DAB. More and more people are listening online and there’ll be a Virgin Radio app too.
Other Virgin radio franchises around the globe are doing incredibly well – how easy will it be to replicate this in the UK?
Radio is a medium that can help to define our mood and thinking for each and every day, and this sentiment has helped to shape the Virgin Radio brand around the world. As a result of this, the Virgin Radio brand is hugely loved around the world and this will inevitably help to give us a great start within the UK radio market.
That being said, it will be the content of our station that will make us a success, so we have to shape this for our own market, rather than replicate what has been successful in other countries around the world.
In the latest RAJAR figures, we saw that radio listenership was on the rise in the UK – is this surprising to you?
Not really. Radio is a portable, free to air medium, which has stayed relevant with new stations and new ideas that people love – we’re really happy to be part of that.
In two years time, where do you hope the station will be?
With digital radio’s share in overall radio listening almost doubling since 2009, we expect to see this figure continue to grow and for Virgin Radio to have played a role in this success. We hope to be continuing to bring relevant and current content to an audience who choose to tune in to us on a frequent basis because of our talented line-up, credible music and entertaining shows. Overall, we hope to be having a positive and uplifting influence on people’s lives.
Virgin Radio launches on Wednesday 30th March – retune your radio from 15th February 2016. The station will be available on digital, online and on mobile. www.virginradio.co.uk