Huntingford steps down from Virgin Radio

LONDON - Richard Huntingford, the Virgin Radio executive chairman, is to leave his post following the station's £53.2m sale to the Times of India Group.

Huntingford's departure marks the second time in a year that he has parted company from a radio group following its sale.

He was previously chief executive of Chrysalis, until the radio division was sold to Global Radio last year.

In a statement, Virgin Radio said: "Richard Huntingford is contracted as executive chairman of Virgin Radio until September 2008.

"He will remain with the company to ensure a smooth transition following completion of the sale of the business to TIML [Times Infotainment Media Limited] Radio and is currently considering future options."

Huntingford was named non-executive chairman of Virgin Radio in August last year, as its parent company SMG prepared to offload the radio station.

Separately, Clive Dickens, the programme and operations director of the station's new owner Absolute Radio and a former executive with Capital Radio, has told Brand Republic that the industry should be wary of underestimating the new investors, Times of India Group.

Dickens said that the company is a "powerhouse organisation" which will make a "significant investment" in the new station once it is rebranded in the Autumn and the Virgin brand name is ditched.

The main bulk of Times of India Group's operations are overseas and in the UK its only interest is Absolute Radio, which runs stations including Jack FM in Oxford and South Oxfordshire and Oxford FM 107.9.

He said the company was not "purely financially motivated" and that they would add "substantial operational value".

Dickens said he wants to return the pop and rock station to its heyday of nearly a decade ago and that it has suffered in the last 10 eight years from a lack of marketing investment.

He said the new owners would spend £15m on rebranding the station, where Christian O'Connell is the breakfast show presenter, and launching a new marketing campaign to raise awareness in the autumn.

The task will be handled by advertising agency Albion, which has recently been appointed to the £15m account without a pitch.

Dickens said the agency "screamed entrepreneurial" and that he was impressed by "the company they keep -- brands such as Skype, LastFM and Ebay".

The new owners are not planning to change their media agency requirements and will continue to work with Virgin Radio's agency of record, Starcom.

Looking ahead, Dickens said he is aiming to create a "new best of class audio brand in the UK" and to expects "significant inroads into new areas such as music downloading, events, video, mobile and other channels".

He said the biggest challenge would be creating a new brand to replace one of the "most iconic British brands".

Dickens said: "The new brand will have to earn its spurs and there are very few examples of completely new brands that have been a success in the modern media landscape; the only one I can think of is UKTV's Dave, which was an instant success, something we would like to emulate."

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