R.A.P. Interview: Jeff Thomas

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R.A.P.: Commercial radio in the U.K. is relatively young. What are your observations about this so far?
Jeff: From what I've heard, commercial radio here is about twenty-two years old. Before that, it was just the BBC. Obviously, the BBC here is like nothing I've ever come across before. I'm sure it's the same for you guys in the States. It's not just a radio station here. The BBC was almost the voice of western civilization during the wars. So it's been around for a long time.

But, as you say, commercial radio here is still really young. I can only remember from the stories I heard from the old man that when radio in Australia was only twenty years old, it was still banging a gong at the top of the hour and that sort of stuff. For commercial radio to be where it is here in the U.K. after twenty years is quite staggering. I also get the vibe that in the last five years the commercial radio industry here has been on steroids or something. It's really had an acceleration in the last five years. There was a new station that started in London last week, and there are still new licenses coming up in the future. It's getting fairly fast paced here, and it's growing up quickly, which is a good thing, I think.

R.A.P.: What competition is there for Virgin Radio?
Jeff: Our competition nationally is Radio One, which is the hipper of the BBC stations. Locally, in London, it's Capitol FM which was one of the first stations that started back in the seventies. It is a much more established and bigger network than Virgin. Capitol is a network that has stations around the U.K.. It doesn't broadcast nationally, but it owns stations nationally, and as far as Virgin goes, we're dealing with a lot of heritage in competing with Capitol. I think there's a great point of difference between the two, and we're definitely not trying to attack the same market or demographic by any stretch of the imagination. I couldn't tell you what Capitol is aiming for specifically, but I know that our target is fairly strictly AOR, twenty to forty-five. You'd have to say that Capitol is slightly more pop oriented and slightly younger.

R.A.P.: What is this new station that went on the air a week ago doing?
Jeff: They're called Hot FM. They're going for a slightly more soft rock approach and they're next door to us on the dial. I don't think there would be any problem in picking the difference between the two if you decide to have a holiday in London and tune down the dial, but it's still fairly tight in competitive terms. And because there are still new ideas and techniques being tried out within radio in London, I'm sure there's as much dial surfing here as anywhere.

R.A.P.: Where does the name Virgin Radio come from?
Jeff: Well, that's something that's been around since before the '60s because of the record company, Virgin Records. From my understanding, the record company is now not owned by the Virgin group but it was definitely started by the same people. Obviously, the record company started a long time before and had its initial success with Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells." Then the punk era came along and they discovered Boy George and so on and so forth. It then grew into a much bigger thing that now incorporates not the record company anymore, but the radio station, the airline, and other companies. There's Virgin Vodka. There's Virgin Cola. There's publishing. There's computers. The list goes on.

R.A.P.: What does the name Virgin represent with regards to the image of the station?
Jeff: I guess it represents the attitude of the brand, whether it be the record company or the radio station, inasmuch as it warrants attention, whether it's necessarily innocent or not. But it is out there shaking people, sort of demanding you look at it or listen to it or pay attention to it. It's a really subconscious thing, and I'm sure a great deal more thought has gone into it than my representation of it after eight months. But that's how I see it. I see it as slightly risque. It's definitely got a bit of a street vibe connection. It's definitely not bland and maybe verging on the element of irreverent.

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