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
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
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
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
’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.