Absolute Radio to win £60m battle for Virgin Radio

LONDON - Absolute Radio looks set to win the battle for control of Virgin Radio with a £60m bid after it was selected as the preferred bidder to acquire the station from Scottish media group SMG.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph this morning, Absolute is understood to have made a cash offer and will enter talks with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which must approve the deal and the continued licensing of the Virgin brand name.

The price is at the lower end of the £60m-£70m range that SMG had been looking for. It is also far removed from the £225m that SMG paid for the station.

A victory for the radio investment and consultancy group means that it has thwarted rivals including UTV, the Belfast-based TV and radio company that owns the UK's TalkSport, and has long sought to win control of Virgin. Other bidders included Astro All Asia Networks, which is backed by Malaysian billionaire Ananda Krishnan.

Absolute is run by former Capital radio executives including programme and operations director Clive Dickens. It already runs stations including Jack FM in Oxford and South Oxfordshire and Oxford FM 107.9.

Virgin Radio was launched by Sir Richard in 1993, was later bought by former presenter Chris Evans and Apax in 1997 and sold to SMG in 2000.

The price is a fraction of the £225m SMG paid eight years ago for both the station and a television production company owned by Chris Evans and private equity house Apax Partners. Evans and Apax had acquired Virgin in 1997 for £88m.

The sale of Virgin Radio comes in a week of frantic activity in the radio market following final agreement on the terms of an acquisition of GCap Media by Global Radio. Global, which had been in the running to buy Virgin, until it secured a deal to acquire GCap in a 225p a share deal valuing the company at £375m.

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