MEDIA HEADLINER: Canny operator thinks he can make listeners try Xfm again. Has Richard Park lined up enough talent to revitalise Xfm, Michele Martin asks?

It was not the best start for Xfm’s newest star DJ, Bob Geldof. A few days after his arrival, Sir Bob announced on air that the veteran rocker, Ian Dury, had died. Just a few minutes later, however, and he was back retracting the story, apologising profusely.

It was not the best start for Xfm’s newest star DJ, Bob Geldof. A

few days after his arrival, Sir Bob announced on air that the veteran

rocker, Ian Dury, had died. Just a few minutes later, however, and he

was back retracting the story, apologising profusely.



Perhaps not a sacking offence, but an embarrassment nevertheless - not

that you would guess it from talking to Geldof’s boss, Richard Park,

group director of programmes for Xfm’s new owner, Capital plc.



’Bob got a call from someone who was very, very tearful during one of

his shows and he thought, ’God, it’s probably true’, so he blurted the

news out,’ Park explains. No other comment is forthcoming and his

silence makes it quite clear that any further questioning would be

fruitless.



Park is not a man easily distracted by peripherals. Since joining

Capital in 1987, he has kept his eye on the bigger picture, taking the

station from a middlingly successful single medium to an acquisitive

broadcasting group. On the way, he has earned a reputation as one of the

best - if not the best - radio programmers in the UK and a tough bloke

to do business with. This is, after all, the person reputed to have

removed the chairs from the studios of Capital’s DJs to keep them on

their toes during broadcasts.



Geldof’s debut may not have been glitch-free but, as far as Park is

concerned, he remains vital to resuscitating London’s newest

alternative, guitar-led music station. Hired last week as part of Xfm’s

first schedule under Capital management, Geldof and colleagues are the

company’s first indications of intent towards the floundering indie

music station it recently rescued after just a year on air. Geldof is

being positioned as the station’s icon, reflecting its values as an

independently minded, eclectic but respected musical institution. The

novelty value of his first outing as a DJ in the UK (he has presented in

Australia), is also expected to bring in listeners during his 104.9

(geddit?) days under contract.



Park calls Geldof and the other 12 presenters - most from the old Xfm -

a new start for ’a station that never really had a chance’ and says he

believes Xfm audiences can grow from 300,000 to 400,000 in the next

year, taking a 1.5 per cent share of the capital’s listening. And

although he talks about the ’consistencies’ between Xfm old and new, few

doubt that he will take the station slightly into the mainstream to

deliver the numbers.



Delivering the numbers, however, is something Park has become rather

good at during a career that has been broad enough for him to rightly

claim credit as a ’broadcaster rather than a bureaucrat’.



Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, he began his career in print journalism as

a trainee on the Fife News in 1964 before moving to the offshore pirate

station, Radio Scotland. When this was closed, he went back to local

newspapers, interspersing his writing with radio work, including stints

at Radio 1.



By 1973, he had landed a full-time job at Radio Clyde, earning a

reputation variously as late-night maverick ’Dr Dick’ and a highly

regarded sports commentator, fuelled by his enduring passion for

football. By 1982, Park had become head of music and sport, winning the

first Sony Broadcaster of the Year award a year later.



He left Scotland for Capital in 1987, weathering the trauma of the

’north-south divide’ because he fancied the job on offer as head of

music. Just six months later, he became programme controller and was put

on the board in 1991, gaining his current position in 1993.



Park’s record of masterminding many of Capital’s key changes during his

decade in London bodes well for Xfm. When he arrived, Capital’s business

was centred on the station and audiences were showing signs of

instability.



Since then, the company has launched many ventures, such as restaurants

and a record label, as well as the radio stations for which it is best

known.



Park is particularly credited as being the brains behind launching the

very successful Capital Gold, taking Capital onto AM and developing the

Fun Radio children’s programming brand, with which Capital is applying

for the North-east and Central Scotland regional licences. ’My great

thing is creating new formats. I suppose you could say that I’ve been

the equivalent of a creative director for Capital,’ he says.



It is successes such as these that indicate Xfm will work second time

around - not least because Park is personally excited by the venture,

calling it ’a real labour of love’. And while he is too cautious a

businessman to declare his hand, he clearly has big ambitions for the

station. ’It’s a brilliant national format and I’d like to see it beyond

London,’ he admits. Geldof-style gaffes aside, it could happen sooner

than you think.



THE PARK FILE



1964: Fife News, trainee reporter



1973: Radio Clyde, presenter



1982: Radio Clyde, head of music and sport



1987: Capital Radio, programme controller



1993: Capital plc, group director of programmes



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