HEADLINER: GWR head marks 15 years of success with record venture - Ralph Bernard discusses exorcisms, emotions and assets. By Eleanor Trickett

We all know by now how these profiles work. They’re about a person who has been handed a medium-sized promotion, moved company, bought something or been sensationally fired. Not so on this occasion. The story behind this piece is that 15 years ago last Sunday, Ralph Bernard stood in the bathroom of a haunted house in the middle of Wiltshire and began broadcasting the station which sparked off GWR.

We all know by now how these profiles work. They’re about a person

who has been handed a medium-sized promotion, moved company, bought

something or been sensationally fired. Not so on this occasion. The

story behind this piece is that 15 years ago last Sunday, Ralph Bernard

stood in the bathroom of a haunted house in the middle of Wiltshire and

began broadcasting the station which sparked off GWR.



Happy anniversary, then, to Ralph Bernard, who is the chief executive of

GWR and Classic FM. But to complicate matters further, he’s not here to

talk about himself - he’s here to talk about GWR. How do I explain that

to my editor? And, to cap it all, I’ve lost my make-up bag somewhere in

the bowels of Classic FM.



On the plus side, Bernard’s reticence presents an ideal opportunity to

chew over some of GWR’s more seedy roots, and also its glowing

future.



For those of you who are too young to remember, GWR set itself up in a

grotty old house in the middle of Wootton Bassett in October 1982.



The house came with its own problems. ’It was disgusting,’ Bernard

reminisces.



’Nowhere to wash, and it was haunted.’ He has tried to come up with a

rational explanation, but the paranormal sightings have left him in no

doubt that Johnnie Walker - once a jock at the station - was wise to

hire the exorcist when he did.



The core team has changed little over the years. Simon Ward, now group

sales and marketing director, was in the original presenter line-up.

Quentin Howard began as the technical director, and still is, although

his position was taken up only when he had decided against a career in

ballet dancing.



Henry Meakin, GWR’s group chairman, put up the original funding for

Radio Wiltshire. And completing what Bernard calls the ’Big Five’ is

Simon Cooper, breakfast show presenter-turned director of human

resources and public affairs.



Bernard is here to talk about the future of GWR, and Classic FM, which

the group acquired last December. ’Classic FM is now the jewel in GWR’s

crown,’ Bernard says. And the group is expanding further, with the

launch of the Classic record label heralding a new era of brand

extensions. ’Classic has an enormous feeling of goodwill behind it,’

Bernard says. ’The idea of us not doing anything else with it is simply

not on the agenda - though we are obviously being careful not to put our

name on just anything. Maybe financial services?’ he muses.



And the GWR empire has been boosted by the setting up of its own sales

house, as the Capital-owned Media Sales and Marketing will no longer be

handling GWR’s sales, in compliance with Government regulations.



Of course, not everybody has come round completely to the idea of

commercial radio in the 15 years that Bernard has been on board, and,

ironically, some of its more conscientious objectors are of the

classical music-listening ilk. In fact, as I was waiting in the Classic

FM reception, the receptionist had a call from someone making a

complaint about an ad. The ad in question was for Classic’s new record

label, and the caller’s cat was apparently perturbed by the sounds of

bagpipes and a wailing moggy on the soundtrack.



’It’s the fourth call we’ve had today,’ the receptionist sighed.



Bernard, on hearing the tale, said: ’Some people still think advertising

is a sin, but it’s our job to improve that. And many people who think

that radio ads spoil the broadcast will remember the Ovaltinies with

love and affection. What we are trying to do is reactivate those

feelings.’



So how do other people talk about the man who doesn’t talk about

himself?



Simon Ward said: ’Well, he is certainly driven, and a great

visionary.



He’s a very good negotiator, too - generally speaking, everyone comes

out as a winner when dealing with him.’ Why just generally speaking?

’Someone once said that he’d chase a rabbit down a hole just for a

deal,’ Ward replies, cryptically.



Ward also gives us an insight into why Bernard will not talk about

himself. ’If you take a look at the company as a whole, Ralph’s profile

is not as large as you would expect. The profile is spread out pretty

evenly between everyone. Basically, we’ve all shied away from the press,

because we’re just busy doing our jobs.’



But, reluctant as Bernard is to talk about himself, it is still possible

to come away with the impression that you have made a friend. The day

after the interview, a parcel plops on my desk. It’s my make-up bag,

accompanied by a note: ’Dear Elly, I think that you will have more use

for this than me. Ralph.’



THE BERNARD FILE



1971: News journalist, various publications



1975: Radio Hallam and Network programmes, documentary producer



1980: Radio Hereward, launch programme controller



1982: Wiltshire Radio, managing director



1985: GWR, chief executive



1992: Classic FM, chief executive.



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