As a brand, Virgin is one of the most well-known companies in the world. Since its launch, the organization 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 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 will explore the records of Virgin Radio history and track a course for where this station may be heading.
Here’s your guide to the history of Virgin Radio.
Introducing the Virgin Radio station
As a network, Virgin Radio initially launched in the UK with a handful of innovators at its core, including Chris Evans and the Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson.
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 organization 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, Virgin now broadcasts exclusively on digital channels.
While there is no Virgin Radio FM frequency or AM channel, you can listen to the shows online or through Sky television.
Broadcasts run from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. 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).
Virgin Radio History
Where the network began
Compared to broadcasting giants like the BBC, Virgin Radio hasn’t been available for long.
A significant period in Virgin Radio 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 p.m. 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 developed 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, the original radio station 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 in Chris Evans – an iconic presenter – 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 made 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. SMG announced its decision to sell Virgin Radio to the Times of India group. The sale went through on the 30th of June 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
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:
- Amy Voce
- Ben Jones
- Kate Lawler
- Matt Richardson
- Pete Mitchell
Of course, when it comes to talking about Virgin Radio presenters, one name will always stand out above the rest. Chris Evans on Virgin 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. There, 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 Radio anyway.
The Virgin Radio Chris Evans Show returned to the airwaves on the 21st of January 2019, between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.
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.
Evans said 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 he would be running a breakfast show 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, Rajar, the group responsible for measuring the adoption of radio in the UK, 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 began reconsidering digital radio as the number one channel for the UK.
The stats from 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 also going up.
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 averaged around 480,000 listeners each week. However, now, the breakfast show alone attracts an audience of at least 1.05 million each week.
Virgin Radio Expansion Into Other Countries
Up to this point, you now know that Virgin Radio became a highly successful commercial brand in the UK during the 1990s. However, how did the brand set foot in other countries?
The company’s expansion into other countries was evident from 2001. The first move was in 2001 when the Virgin Group and an Asian-based investment fund established Virgin Radio Asia.
The creation of Virgin Radio Asia paved the way for the launch of Virgin Radio stations in India, China, and Thailand between 2002 and 2006.
Virgin Asia Radio’s success led to the growth of its team and increased readiness for expansion into other countries.
The first incidence of the company’s expansion outside Asia was its acquisition of a global remit in 2006. The move transformed it into what we know today, Virgin Radio International.
The table below summarizes the timelines of Virgin Radio’s expansion into other countries:
|Mumbai and Bangalore
|The United Arab Emirates and Kolkata
|Toronto and France
|London and Winnipeg
|Halifax and Kitchener
|Kelowna and Victoria (Canada)
The future of Virgin Radio
As a brand, the Virgin Group is one of the best-known and most well-respected groups.
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 recognized sub-categories of Virgin.
According to the Virgin Radio Station team, the group is committed to listening to their audience and delivering the flavor of broadcasting that they’re looking for.
Virgin Radio wants to speak to listeners using the music and entertainment they respond best.
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 its growing audience.
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 the market.
How to get Virgin Radio
Virgin Radio FAQ:
Q: What frequency is Virgin Radio?
A: There is no AM/FM frequency for the Virgin Radio station. You can listen to the show via a DAB signal instead or 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 haven’t used your DAB set for a while, 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 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 to 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 re-tuned 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 in 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 a.m. and 10 a.m., 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 favorite programs.
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.
Want to see how internet radio, like Virgin Radio, got its start? You may read our article on the History Of Internet Radio.
You can also get the latest recommendations on the Best Internet Radio right here.
Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.