Virgin Radio is back on the UK airwaves, with three TalkSport spinoff stations and a slew of new national broadcasters as part of a new wave of digital radio stations.
The rock and pop music brand owned by Richard Branson is one of 14 stations to launch on Sound Digital, the second nationwide commercial digital platform licensed by media regulator Ofcom on Friday.
Branson had long wanted to relaunch Virgin Radio. Still broadcasting to a number of countries around the world, the Virgin brand died out in the UK in 2008 when the station, formerly owned by Chris Evans, was rebranded to Absolute Radio.
Sound Digital, owned by parent company TalkSport UTV Media, owner of Absolute Radio Bauer Media and broadcast company Arqiva, beat a competing offer, Listen2Digital, which reportedly saw the return of a new sports station backed by former TalkSport owner Kelvin MacKenzie.
The new stations are expected to launch in March next year and will see about a doubling of the national digital stations currently available on digital audio broadcast radio.
The second wave of national commercial digital stations is long overdue. The second national digital license was first awarded by Ofcom seven years ago, to a consortium backed by Channel 4, only for the broadcaster to unplug the outlet.
Digital radio has not matched the popularity of digital television, which has grown at such a rate that the analog television signal was cut off in 2012 after a remarkably smooth switching schedule.
But all talk about the switch to radio has been put on the back burner, with the majority of tunes still being analog services on FM or AM.
Digital home listening first surpassed analog late last year, but overall – including cars – only 37.9% of all listening is done digitally.
DAB radio remains by far the most popular digital platform, but it remains to be seen how it will fare in the long term in an era when online streaming is rife.
The new lineup of national commercial stations includes three derivative stations of TalkSport, TalkSport 2, Talk Radio and Talk Business, supported by Bloomberg.
Other stations will include several services already available nationwide or across much of the country on various platforms, including Bauer’s Absolute 80s and Planet Rock, and Jazz FM.
The Sound Digital range
Virgin Radio – rock and pop music
Talk Radio – news and current affairs
Talk Sport 2 – live sport and sports chat
Talk Business – business and financial programs
Absolute music from the 80s – 80s
Magic Mellow – relaxing and melodic music
Planet Rock – classical rock music
Heat Radio – pop music, celebrity gossip and entertainment
Kisstory – “old skool” dance tunes and hymns
Jazz FM – jazz music
Sunrise Radio – Asian Music & Speech Programs
UCB Inspirational – Christian Music
Premier Christian Radio – Christian music and speeches
British Muslim Radio – Asian music and speech, with elements of Islamic content