Branson, MacKenzie Plotting Virgin Rebirth For Exiled Radio Station

Last week, Virgin Radio International told us the Indian owners of its Absolute Radio replacement are “out of their depth” in the UK. Now it emerges Richard Branson’s brand wants to return to British airwaves. Branson and former talkSPORT owner Kelvin MacKenzie told Ofcom they want to bid when the regulator is expected to auction spectrum used by Absolute, Classic FM and talkSPORT in 2011 and 2012, as Times Online reports.

Times Of India owner Bennett, Coleman & Co bought Virgin Radio’s UK station from ailing SMG last year for £53.2 million but was denied the right to use the Virgin name amid fears it might tarnish its reputation. Having changed name to Absolute, the station promptly lost nearly a fifth of its listeners, according to H208 Rajar figures.

The Virgin Radio brand continues to operate under license in various countries. Better than simply returning to its old 1215 MHz slot, winning Classic FM’s spectrum would give Virgin its first national FM license. And the winning auction bid is likely to be cheap: Absolute and talkSPORT only pay £100,000 a year while Classic pays £50,000 plus six percent of revenue, Times Online reports.

A win for Branson and MacKenzie would leave one of the three spectrum holders to consider broadcasting only on DAB, TV and online, or packing up and going home. This would, of course, be a completely different company to Absolute. Of most interest to us – would Virgin Radio 2.0 try to bring over its respected former online team from Absolute?