RADIO / The new pilots of the airwaves: Sabine Durrant visited the Soho studios of Virgin Radio as Britain's new national station prepared for today's launch

The man from Fast Lane magazine leans back into his leather jacket, runs his fingers through his short-cropped hair, and smiles. He's just been pitched by John Pearson, sales director of Virgin Radio, and he likes what he's heard. The station has the right profile (national, with the exception of odd hilly areas like the Grampians - 'so no sheep'), the right age group (25-44 - 'too old for ram-raiders'), the right sounds (classic album rock). When his company, Perry Motor Press, releases their new car mag in the autumn ('Did I say autumn?' he says, coquettishly) they'll seriously consider advertising. You can tell. For one thing, before he leaves the boardroom he and Pearson have spent five fascinating minutes discussing a particular back issue of Supercar (the one about old Jaguars). It makes you wonder: is Virgin Radio going to be anything more than a station for middle-of-the-road car bores?

They say otherwise. They say rumours of their anti-soul, anti-dance, anti-heavy metal policy are exaggerated (Danny Baker may have turned down a job because he was told 'no black music', but that, they claim, was before the management shuffle in January). They say everything they do won't be Bryan Adams; that they won't lay down wall-to-wall Pink Floyd; that Queen won't rule. They're even wary of using the word 'rock' - 'it's a big turn off for women,' says Pearson. The playlist is determined, not by each individual DJ but by a small group of people who trust their own taste. 'Stevie Wonder releases a new single - we'll play it,' says Richard Skinner, joint programme director, 'but only if it deserves to be played.' 'Nothing gets by,' says chief executive David Campbell, 'unless it's good.'

'But hey come on,' said Chris Evans, cocky flagship DJ in specs, at Wednesday's press conference. 'You don't accuse Kiss FM of not playing Bruce Springsteen. If you don't like it, fiddle your dial.'

From 12.15pm today, when Virgin goes on air (the time matches the wavelength, minus the AM bit), listeners can judge, and fiddle if necessary, for themselves. One thing's certain they won't hear Simon Bates creaming that 'Mick's a very funny guy, very easy to get on with'. DJs at Virgin are called 'presenters' and are supposed to keep their mouths and their plastic bags of fav vinyl firmly shut. There are no turntables at Virgin Radio's Golden Square offices. Instead, there's a complicated computer system, complete with resident bug, a team of PAs trained by Lucy Clayton and the SAS, three floors of glossy plants and fitted carpet, a humungous amount of 'enthusiasm and team spirit', a lot of men in jeans with bleepers on their belts and an awful lot of tired faces. Guaranteed: when Virgin formally takes to the air today, a large proportion of its 42 staff won't have slept.

It all started in January, when the team began to arrive from other parts of the Virgin organisation, or were poached from Capital and Radio 1, but it reached a frenzy this week. The big countdown sign on the wall behind the receptionists' heads was reading '3 days to launch' and the test transmission was in its 27th day, when Emperor Rosko and his ponytail arrived from Los Angeles, the laminate invitations for the 'first night' party were delivered, two film crews - from Sky and Granada - got tangled on the stairs and David Fanning, one of the DJs, had a baby. 'If you're here for the day, you're gonna hear the F word' said the man behind the bar. 'Take care in the Ladies,' warned a passing member of the advertising team, 'Two secretaries were crying in there last week.'

(The internal speaker-system relays the test transmission. On the air: Starship - 'We Built this City on Rock and Roll'.)

The Virgin office is like a complicated weather system; thunderous activity and gathering clouds can swirl in one section of the operation (computer grief, say), while on another floor, or in a different room, people lounge around and bicker over chocolate biscuits as if they had no homes to go to. On the top floor, the press office was having kittens over a sponsorship deal with Nescafe - 'the biggest in radio history' - but at the morning staff meeting, the information went down like a cold cappuccino. 'Oh' said someone.

(Across the speaker-system: Simply Red's 'Holding back the Years'.)

In the bar area, which they call 'the Zoo', the runners were horsing around, but in the adjoining boardroom men in jackets talked seriously across a bowl of fruit. Downstairs, Julia Biddle, David Campbell's PA, was up to her ears in laminates, security passes and job applications - 'Golly, every day is different actually'. In the office next door, John Revel lay on the floor, waving a ruler around.

(On the air: Squeeze with 'Goodbye Girl', followed by Sting.)

And in a large room behind reception, a gaggle of DJs joshed and sorted through their post. Here, it would seem, for all the grand statements of 'cohesive identity', is the real personality of the station, here are the presenters 'with a passion for the tracks they play'. Here's Tommy Vance with mirror specs and a voice that could descale a kettle: 'Hi, how ya doing?' he says, 'Nice talking to ya. Have fun.' Here's Russ Williams, tall, handsome with a mouth full of shiny caps - so smooth you could have him on toast (as he hosts the breakfast show, a lot of people might): 'It's all fine tuning. It's time for a change, a change of listening habits, slipping up a gear as Nigel Mansell might say.' Here's Emperor Rosko: 'I said 'send me twice what I need and I'll make the final selection'. Now has anyone seen the drinks machine?'

And here's Jonathan Coleman, the 'Thunder from Down Under', the 'Mound of Sound', the man who says 'dontchajusluvit?' on the Foster ad. Coleman has ideas, so to speak, above his station.

'I won't play that Chris de Burgh song 'Woman in Red' ' he says, 'no wa-ay. Though I suppose thinking about it there are 2,000 people out there who live for Chris de Burgh . . . Or Tina Turner - yuk. I'm putting together a list of my favourite tracks here, a whole stack of stuff . . . When it comes down to it, it's all negotiable. Here, listen to this.' Coleman thrusts a CD into the mini system on the desk - it's a band called Yothu Yindi. The sleeve says they're some of the 'traditional owners of the Northern territories' North East Arnhem Land'. It's not exactly middle of the road.

It sounds convincing, but across the internal speaker system comes 'A Horse with no Name' by America and when, later at the press conference, Richard Skinner says their listener-figure estimation (3.3 million) is 'conservative', the adjective scrapes close to their playlist, too. Perhaps a lot of people like their radio safe. And male (there's only one woman DJ and she's on from 2am to 6am). And white. But maybe some will think, where's the fun in that?

(On the airwaves: 'Wondrous Story' by Yes.)

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game