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
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
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
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