For a man who's lived and breathed commercial radio for the past 20
years, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that Phil Riley,
chief executive of Chrysalis Radio, makes a concerted effort not to
listen to the radio outside work hours.
'Radio has been my life, but I've gone so far beyond listening for
pleasure that if I tune in at home or in the car, it seems too much like
working,' he says.
In fact, at one stage, Riley was so desperate to cut the medium out of
his domestic life that he junked his car radio and replaced it with a CD
At work, though, he is a radio man through and through. He started out
as a presenter on university radio, then joined Birmingham's BRMB as a
graduate trainee, getting up at four in the morning to present the early
morning travel news. After a while, he moved into programming, although
he retained his respect for broadcasters. He still mourns the passing of
his hero, Kenny Everett. 'He managed to weave magic across the
When Riley decided to break into management, he took a career break to
study for an MBA. He returned to radio feeling fully equipped to run a
During his time at Chrysalis, the 40-year-old has launched at least half
a dozen stations. His latest task is the bid for the second Greater
London digital multiplex licence - a prize the company missed out on the
first time around (Campaign Media Business, 27 September).
'We only applied for one licence, which we lost to Capital and Emap. Not
a big surprise, as they were carrying most of their analogue services on
digital multiplex anyway,' Riley says.
He makes it clear that Chrysalis will apply for many more digital
licences around the country. He hopes the move towards digital will
solve some of the frustrations associated with a lack of analogue
'There just aren't enough frequencies for us to apply for licences in
areas where we might want to have a Heart or Galaxy format,' he
'While digital will ease the shortage to a certain degree, it won't rid
us of the problem completely.'
Fragmentation is also a concern, as digital radio has a vastly wider
range than analogue. 'When all of the multiplexes available in an area
are up and running, anybody with digital radio will receive 30 to 40
stations in digital quality,' Riley adds.
But while the digital future clearly presents a number of challenges,
Riley believes the price issue is a red herring.
'It's very expensive (for consumers), but it won't be in a couple of
years. The main problem now is the sheer size of the installed base of
radio receivers and the inertia of people to change them. It will be at
least another five years before digital catches on fully.'
Despite not being a great radio listener at home, Riley insists that he
is 'happy as Larry' in his work. However, perhaps the Manchester United
fan's most joyous moment came in Barcelona during the European Cup final
between his team and Bayern Munich.
'The end of that game was the best two minutes I've spent fully clothed.
I felt honoured to be there,' he concludes.
Riley on working in radio
'Make sure you do your homework. It's amazing how many people come for
an interview and have never bothered to listen to the station.
Self-starters and people with leadership skills are almost impossible to
find. You don't get shortlisted without a degree here, and the ability
to persuade people in order to sell your product, idea or vision is