MEDIA HEADLINER: The no-nonsense Northerner ready to deliver new-look LBC. Under Phil Riley, Chrysalis Radio has thrived. Will LBC follow suit?

Chrysalis Radio is on a roll. Every risk it takes seems to be paying off and the City and advertisers are beginning to take notice.

The chief executive, Phil Riley, is content. Under his stewardship, Chrysalis has seen its audience share increase across the board.

Heart 106.2 is closing the gap on its London rival Capital and its recently formed breakfast show pairing of Jonathan Coleman and Emma Forbes is pulling in 862,000 listeners. Fewer than half of Chris Tarrant's but a good position from which to challenge.

Chrysalis has also rid itself of the loss-making Galaxy 101, the black sheep of the Galaxy network with a cross-border audience that was the source of many a programming and scheduling headache. It was bought by Vibe Radio Services, a consortium including GWR and Scottish Radio Holdings.

While Riley, 43, draws great satisfaction from the health of the Heart and Galaxy networks, it is Chrysalis' recent acquisitions that he is particularly excited about. In September, the group bought the London News Radio stations LBC and News Direct from GWR.

There is no doubting Chrysalis' commitment to LBC. It has allocated it an FM licence and 50 per cent more funding for programmes than the previous shareholders Reuters, GWR and ITN. The aim is to bring the station to the attention of 35- to 54-year-olds across the capital.

Riley says: "From the day we announced we were buying LBC, we've been in constant dialogue with the heads of radio and the key radio buying points. We wanted to find out what it is they need to feel confident about spending their money on LBC.

"What they tell us is well within our own vision. Their perception of what's needed in the marketplace seems bang in line with what we think is needed. The people we've been talking to are those who would love to be able to buy space on Radio 4 and Radio Five Live. One of our goals is to be able to deliver on LBC the same sort of audience, the same demographic profile as these stations."

But Tim McCabe, the head of radio at BBJ Communications, would like to see Chrysalis be more ambitious.

He says: "It's a real leap of faith for agencies. They'll be taking a real stab in the dark as to how the LBC audience is going to migrate. I would like to see it aimed at a younger demographic."

Despite a decade of decline, Chrysalis will be encouraged by LBC's good performance in last month's Rajar. It remains a strong brand but Riley eventually intends to incorporate News Direct.

Work has already begun on LBC's facelift. The search for a new advertising agency has already reached a shortlist of four. And the station has a new roster of presenters - a series of signings from rival stations has been accompanied by the removal of old hands such as Simon Bates.

But speech stations are the BBC's speciality and it's going to take something special to successfully compete with Radio 4 and Five Live. Not to mention Kelvin MacKenzie's talkSPORT.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Universal McCann's planning manager, Mark Middlemas, says: "It's not going to happen for them overnight. LBC is a station which has a huge brand heritage with, well, let's call them the cabbie community. It will be interesting to see how they react to the changes being made."

Riley is a no-nonsense Mancunian who lists rock climbing and keeping fit among his hobbies. He started as a disc jockey before helping to turn around Radio Aire in Leeds as its managing director. Then he launched the Heart network for Chrysalis.

Chrysalis looks good going forward. Lorna Tilbian, a director at Numis Securities, says: "The numbers suggest that Riley and his management team are brilliant. Chrysalis' good performance is all driven by the radio business and, at present, no other radio company can match it. Its ad revenues have shot up and to do that when the rest of the industry is struggling says a lot about the company."

Chrysalis will be looking to a successful relaunch of LBC to help it continue to improve. The group, which at the start of the year was renowned for its two regional networks, is now hoping the deal will give it a strong offering for London.

Riley explains: "We can put packages together. We're trying to aim at a 35- to 54-year-old audience with LBC when we move it on to FM and you can then dovetail this with the 25- to 44-year-old audience that we have on Heart. There is a symmetry about adding these two audiences together. We're delivering an adult, upmarket audience of Londoners, which will be very attractive to advertisers."

Riley has been in the radio industry for 22 years and although he may not have a sales background, he believes he knows what advertisers want.

Judging by the speed with which Chrysalis is making changes at LBC, it won't be long before we find out if he's right.

THE RILEY FILE

1990: Radio Aire, managing director

1994: Chrysalis Radio, managing director and launch director for 100.7

Heart FM

1995: Chrysalis Radio, launch director of Heart 106.2

1999: Chrysalis Radio, chief executive