Those of you who are into what used to be known as AOR (adult oriented rock) may recall that this is the radio station formerly known as Virgin Radio, originally founded by Branson as a clever marketing wheeze for the back catalogue of his then record-label Virgin Records. The station - and its national AM and London FM broadcasting license - was then sold to Chris Evans in the mid-90s, who in turn sold it on to its current owners, India’s TIML.
Branson sold the Virgin label many moons ago, to fund Virgin Atlantic Airways (which is now looking for a new partner itself, but that’s another story). A sale that Branson maintains was one of the hardest decisions of his life, as Virgin Records was his first love, and first truly successful business.
Now Absolute Radio is back on the market again, TIML having decided to get rid of the group that it bought three years ago (minus the rights to the Virgin name, hence the Absolute rebrand) for £53.2m. Absolute made a £4.3m loss in 2009, and last year TIML took a £7.9m write down on its whole UK radio business.
Given those figures, Branson will doubtless be hoping to snap up a bargain, although he may face competition from other bidders. These are said to include TalkSport owner UTV, Global Radio and Midlands-based radio group Orion Media. Bauer, owner of Magic 105.4, may also be in the frame.
Although Virgin has been out of UK radio for some time, it has been investing in building up its global presence via Virgin Radio International, so a return to the UK Market would make sense. And buying back previously-owned but struggling assets for a knockdown price is a well-known moneyspinner for canny entrepreneurs. So we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Virgin back on the dial, pop pickers…