As a brand, Virgin is one of the most well-known
companies in the world.
Since it’s launch, the organisation has grown to offer
everything from television entertainment to airline travel and more. One often
underappreciated facet of the Virgin family is Virgin Radio.
Today, the Virgin Radio station might not be as huge as BBC1 or Radio 4, but it is home to some of the most popular shows around, pulling in millions of listeners each week. What’s more, Virgin Radio is unique because it focuses exclusively on digital broadcasting. Most other networks have an AM/FM frequency alongside their DAB channels.
Whether you’re a fan of Chris Evans on Virgin Radio and you want to learn more about the channel where he built his career, or you’re just a radio fan, this article is for you. We’re going to explore the annals of Virgin Radio history and track a course for where this station may be heading.
According to the Virgin Radio station team, the company
began as a way to deliver a new style of broadcasting to the UK. However, as
the success of the organisation evolved, Virgin radio quickly spun out across
the world, capturing listeners all over the globe. Now, there are stations in
cities from Milan and Montreal to Bangkok and Dubai.
At the beginning of Virgin radio history, the network could
reach about 75% of the British population through the DAB frequency. Unlike
many other radio stations today, Virgin now broadcasts exclusively on digital
channels. While there is no virgin radio FM frequency or AM channel, you can
listen to the shows from the internet, or through a Sky television.
Broadcasts run from 4 am to 1 am every day, and music is played back-to-back through the night, with various pre-recorded announcements and updates taken from presenters during the day. In 2018, the UK Virgin Radio group launched two additional spin-offs for its digital network. The Virgin DAB frequency now supports Virgin Chilled (Acoustic music), and Virgin Anthems (Guitar from the 80s and 90s).
A significant period in Virgin Radio’s history begins with the rise of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which allowed commercial radio stations to play music and shows nationally across the country. Up until then, there had only been a handful of local stations available. The BBC was the only national broadcasting company in the UK for several years. That was one of the reasons why pirate radio stations ended up becoming so popular.
The Broadcasting Act in the 90s wanted to introduce more
diversity to radio in the UK. That meant that more services could be licensed.
The first option was a service
that consisted of broadcasting spoken material. Another option was a
license to broadcast music that wasn’t “pop” music, according to the
Radio Authorities of the time.
The Virgin station broadcast on the old Radio 3 AM frequency, to begin with – a station also used to broadcast commentaries for Cricket games during the summer months. The team responsible for Virgin Radio history quickly moved into an office within Camden, and they’ve been there ever since.
By 1993, Virgin had switched its broadcasting strategy, and began playing music from the Manchester Virgin Megastore at 12:15 pm. The Founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson also launched a similar service back in London. Other Virgin DJs began to appear, including Russ Williams, Tommy Vance, and Nick Abbot.
By 1995, Virgin Radio had begun to develop a stronger reputation in the marketplace. The station evolved and began broadcasting from 105.8 FM. Part of the licensing requirements from the service meant that a London opt-out option needed to be included on FM. By mid-1996, Virgin had launched its first website and began streaming online. It was the first radio station in Europe that was available via the internet.
At the same time, original breakfast show hosts for Virgin, Jono and Russ won the first-ever Gold Sony Radio Award for a music-based breakfast show.
Who owns Virgin Radio? The channel switches hands
Virgin Radio has experienced a few identity changes over the years, thanks to updates in their ownership. In May 1997, Virgin launched a potential sale to Capital Radio – the group responsible for the flagship station at the heart of London. Because combining Capital and Virgin would lead to a radio station of a much larger size, the merger needed to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission before it was allowed to go through.
At a similar time, new Virgin presenters continued to appear on the scene. The company scored an incredible win by bringing Chris Evans – an iconic presenter – in to present their breakfast show. Chris Evans on Virgin Radio was responsible for handling the Breakfast show alongside the rest of his Radio 1 crew after he was fired from BBC 1 in 1997.
Evans discovered that he enjoyed the freedom he experienced as part of the Virgin team and entered discussions with the group. Eventually, it was decided that Evans would acquire the Virgin Radio group for £85 million via Ginger Production. The purchase was possible because the MMC had put the merger between Capital and Virgin on hold.
In 2000, the question “who owns Virgin Radio” came
up again, when the Scottish Media Group announced their agreement to take over
the Ginger Media Group. Aside from owning Grampian and STV in Scotland, the
team was also responsible for Pearl & Bean – the cinema Advertising business,
and a host of other groups. In 2000, the Radio Authority also fined Virgin
Radio £75,000 (a record at the time), for a breach of impartiality. The fine
was issued after Chris Evans’ supported Ken Livingstone in his attempt to
become Mayor of London.
One of the most significant changes in Virgin radio history happened in 2008 when SMG announced their decision to sell Virgin Radio to the Times of India group. The sale went through on June 30th, 2008, and a new management team appeared. The company didn’t have the rights to continue with the Virgin Group name anymore after the sale. This meant that on the 1st of September, Virgin Radio became “Absolute” radio instead.
So, what happened to Absolute?
In 2016, the Virgin Group announced that they would be re-launching the Virgin station in all of its initial glory. The revival happened on a Virgin Train on the 30th of March 2016, to the tune of David Bowie’s “Changes,” performed by Gavin James.
Virgin radio is now officially back on the air.
The top Virgin presenters throughout history
Over the years, there have been many impressive Virgin presenters on the airwaves, ranging from Russel Kane to Edith Bowman. Some of the most well-known Virgin Radio DJs that broadcast with the network today include:
Of course, when it comes to talking about Virgin Radio presenters, one name will always stand out above the rest. Chris Evans on Virgin has changed the course of history for the company, delivering exceptional results and huge listener numbers over the years.
Although Chris Evans spent some of his early career making
Virgin Radio history when he was fired from BBC 1, he did end up moving to BBC
2 in 2006, where he spent thirteen years presenting to a crowd of loving fans.
BBC Radio 2 offered excellent opportunities to Evans, with an average audience
of about 15 million listeners per week. However, even though Virgin Radio only
managed about 400,000 listeners per week at the beginning of this year, Evans
decided to quit the most popular breakfast show in the world and move to Virgin
The Virgin Radio Chris Evans Show returned to the airwaves on the 21st of January 2019, between 6:30 am and 10 am. Evans launched his new show with the help of his wife and children and announced that he was moving back to Virgin Radio because he wanted a new adventure. According to Evans, he had always loved working on BBC 2, but he considered the Virgin Radio station to be his “spiritual” home.
Now on his third run with Virgin Radio, Evans announced in a
press release that he sees nothing but exciting opportunities ahead. He also
noted that he plans to give his new position on the station everything he’s got
and has as much fun as possible at the same time. Chris Evans also delighted
fans by letting them know that he would be running a breakfast show that was
completely devoid of Ad breaks.
Various members of the team that Evans worked with when he
was on BBC Radio 2 also jumped over to Virgin Radio with him, including John Dutton,
commenter and presenter Vassos Alexander, and Producer Meera Depala.
Virgin Radio listening figures: Success and growth
Compared to some of the other competitors in the radio
world, Virgin isn’t the biggest station in Britain or the one with the most
listeners. However, the success of the network is growing, thanks to the rising
demand for commercial radio in the UK. According to Radio Centre,
commercial radio channels earned about 36.1 million listeners in 2019.
What’s more, the group responsible for measuring adoption of
radio in the UK, Rajar, found that there are now 1.7 million more listeners
tuning in to commercial radio stations than all the BBC networks combined. This
announcement comes soon after the UK government has moved to begin their
reconsideration of digital radio as the number one channel for the UK.
The stats delivered by Rajar in 2019 found that at least 66%
of the UK population is listening to commercial radio stations every week, and
total listening hours are going up too. Additionally, the Virgin Radio station
saw its traffic increase by at least 7 times during the first 10 weeks that
Chris Evans took back his position as breakfast show presenter. Chris Evans
even helped Virgin Radio to break through the one million listener barrier for
the first time.
Before Virgin got Evans back, the station was averaging
around 480,000 listeners each week. However, now, the breakfast show alone
attracts an audience each week of at least 1.05 million.
The future of Virgin Radio
As a brand, the Virgin group is one of the best-known and
most well-respected groups in the world. Since the company first took to the
airwaves in the early 90s, Virgin Radio has evolved into a world-famous
network, and one of the most recognised sub-categories of Virgin.
According to the Virgin Radio Station team, the group is
committed to listening to their audience and delivering the flavour of broadcasting
that they’re looking for. Virgin Radio wants to speak to listeners using the
music and entertainment that they respond best to. As such, they’re not afraid
of adapting and evolving to suit the changing needs of the marketplace. Around
the world, Virgin Radio now has more than 26 million listeners tuning in.
Virgin Radio even created two new services, Radio Anthems,
and Radio Chilled in 2018. According to the group, the updated channels are
part of a drive to continue pushing the company’s momentum forward as it
continues to grow its audience.
According to the CEO of Wireless, the company that owns the
Virgin Radio station today, Virgin Radio is a pillar of the Wireless portfolio.
Now that digital radio broadcasting is more popular than ever, Virgin has an
excellent opportunity to roll with the punches of a changing marketplace and
make a real impact on their growing audience.
What’s more, with Chris Evans back at the helm and
delivering record-breaking numbers of listeners for the Virgin group, there’s
nothing to stop the business from becoming one of the biggest radio stations on
A: There is no AM/FM frequency for the Virgin Radio station today. You can listen to the show via a DAB signal instead, or you can tune in through the internet by visiting the Virgin Radio website.
Q: How do I get Virgin Radio?
A: Wondering how to get Virgin Radio? There are plenty of options. If you’ve already listened to Virgin Radio before, but you haven’t used your DAB set for a bit, then you might need to re-scan and retune. You should be able to do this by pressing the auto-scan button on your radio.
If your radio doesn’t have an auto tune or auto scan
feature, you can find Virgin Radio through the Menu by simply scanning through
the available channels in your area.
Q: Is there a Virgin Radio FM frequency?
A: There isn’t an FM frequency for Virgin Radio available today, but there are still plenty of ways that you can tune in. For instance, you can download the iOS or Android app on your smartphone, play Virgin Radio on Google Home or Amazon Echo, or go to Sky Channel 0215. There’s also the option to listen to Virgin Radio through DAB or visit the Virgin website to listen.
Q: What is the Virgin Radio DAB frequency?
A: There is no specific frequency that you need to visit to get Virgin Radio via DAB. If you haven’t retuned or scanned your DAB radio in a while, you’ll need to update it. However, you should be able to find Virgin Radio automatically.
Q: What are the Virgin Radio listening figures?
A: Currently, there are about 1.05 million listeners tuning into Virgin Radio thanks to the arrival of the new Breakfast Show with Chris Evans in 2019. Before Virgin Radio re-hired Chris Evans, the listening figures were approximately 480,000 per week.
Q: Who owns Virgin Radio?
A: Virgin Radio currently belongs to the Wireless Group, which was acquired by the News UK brand during 2016. The station was originally launched in 1993.
Q: What is the Virgin Radio Chris Evans Show?
Chris Evans on Virgin Radio can be found on weekdays between
6:30 am and 10am hosting the morning breakfast show. Chris Evans listening
figures on Virgin Radio helped the company to break through the 1 million
listener barrier for the first time. 1.5 million people tune in to hear Chris
Evans every morning. This is compared to a listenership of over 9 million that
Evans had on the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show.
Q: What can I use to listen to Virgin Radio?
A: Aside from tuning into Virgin radio via a DAB enabled device, there are plenty of ways that you can listen to your favourite programmes. The Virgin Radio company created an iOS and Android app for smartphone users, and it’s possible to access the stream through a smart speaker device. You can find Virgin Radio by saying “Okay Google, Play Virgin Radio UK.”
If you prefer to listen to the radio through your TV set, you can find Virgin Radio on the Freesat Channel 736, or you can listen on Sky on Channel 0215. Like most Internet-based and digital channels, you can also listen to Virgin radio through the website, where you can tune in by clicking the “listen live button”. The show plays throughout the day.
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