HEADLINER: Rock ’n’ roll survivor starts to rejuvenate London’s airwaves [SH] Failed drummer, A&R man and Xfm chief Chris Parry talks radio to Claire Beale.

For most of us, the legacies of rock festivals are usually a few lost hours, somebody else’s tent and improved bladder control. For Chris Parry and his partner, Sammy Jacob, the 1991 Reading Rock Festival spawned a radio station.

For most of us, the legacies of rock festivals are usually a few

lost hours, somebody else’s tent and improved bladder control. For Chris

Parry and his partner, Sammy Jacob, the 1991 Reading Rock Festival

spawned a radio station.



Since broadcasting at Reading, Xfm has been voted New Medium of the Year

by Music Week, held a number of concerts (Xpectations in Finsbury Park

was attended by 27,000 people, screened by Carlton Television and voted

a top five event in all of the music magazines’ readers’ polls),

released two albums (Oasis and U2 contributed special recordings) and

earned pounds 85,000 in advertising and sponsorship revenue. All on the

strength of a few weeks on the air spread over several years.



Then last Thursday Xfm was finally granted establishment status when the

Radio Authority awarded it the new London FM licence. Which is just as

well, because Radiohead said they’d leave the country if Xfm didn’t

win.



Judging by the number of ’fucking great’ congratulatory faxes pinned to

the walls, the champagne bottles lined up on the floor and the thumping

hangovers, the authority’s decision went down rather well.



Despite the hangover from hell which broods silently over our meeting,

it’s clear what propelled Parry through the past five years: passion -

for music, radio, London. And while he insists he won’t be interfering

in the programming details, much of Xfm will mirror the man himself.



A native New Zealander, Parry - who sounds like he’s just swallowed a

mug of sand - was the drummer in a successful antipodean band but came

to London in 1969. He’s been in love with the place ever since, and Xfm

will aim to reflect all that’s great about the music and the lifestyle

of the capital and be a true local station. ’We want to pull London in

and reflect it back out,’ Parry explains.



Once in London, Parry took a place on an HND course in advertising and

marketing and an account executive job offer from Benton and Bowles was

seriously considered, but finally thrown over for a post in Polygram’s

A&R department. Parry has the high honour of being the man to sign the

Jam - a distinction which gives him credibility with the current

generation of musicians - ’The young bands now, they think it’s just

fantastic that I got involved in the Jam.’



But Parry’s rock ’n’ roll credentials don’t end there. He went on to

form his own record label - Fiction - which signed and continues to

handle the cult indie band, the Cure.



If you’re now imagining some sort of manic music mogul with an ego to

match his collection of gold discs - well Parry is really a bit of a

charmer, genuine and down to earth. Maybe he’s mellowed with the years,

but as a front man for the station, Parry has just the right mix of

muted style (lots of black) and business acumen to appeal to young

listeners and the not-so-young commercial community.



While he still owns the record label, Xfm means the chance to move on

and take up fresh challenges.



Top of the list is expanding the audience for commercial radio. ’We’re

going to round up all those promiscuous listeners who aren’t getting

what they want from radio, and we’re going to turn them into regular

listeners to commercial radio.’ Xfm, Parry promises, will be ’one of the

most intimate media you can get. We’re close to the bands, and the

listeners will be very close to us and that’s good news for

advertisers.’



Xfm’s audience, Parry believes, will be trendsetters, early adopters,

free-thinkers. Like the man himself? He says he’s not trendy, proceeds

to blind me with a list of his favourite current grooves, can’t quite

remember how old he is (47 or 48) and insists he’s got a youthful

outlook.



Parry is also keen to use Xfm as a platform for improving the quality of

radio ads. After all, it’s hard to imagine the Prodigy’s latest followed

by a commercial for Carphone Warehouse. He wants to get creatives as

well as the media buyers on board, and with so many in the ad industry

trying to cling on to their distant youth by combining balding pates

with a passion for the likes of Radiohead, Parry has a fair chance of

success.



’We’re offering two brilliant things to the advertising industry - this

young, free-thinking audience for the first time wrapped up in a bundle

and delivered at radio rates, and a great opportunity for agency

creatives to stretch themselves a little bit in their radio work. Radio

ads can be good, but they’re often not,’ Parry argues. ’Maybe we’ll play

a part in making radio sexy.’



The Parry file

1966 Philips Electrical, management trainee.

1968 Professional musician.

1974 Polygram, A&R manager.

1978 Launches Fiction record label.

1992 Xfm, managing director.

1993 Xfm makes its first bid for a London radio licence.

1997 Xfm wins London FM licence.



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