Branson plans global radio

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RICHARD BRANSON, not content with aeroplanes, soft drinks and personal finance, plans to set up a world-wide network of Virgin Radio stations.

He aims to establish Virgin in Western and Eastern Europe, Ireland, South- East Asia and Japan, creating the world's first global rock frequency. For the past three months, Virgin hasbeen looking into buying foreign pop stations and has also been examining licensing laws abroad.

The first Virgin station will open by the end of the year in mainland Europe, probably in Paris, Milan or Madrid. It will broadcast mainly in English and play the same strain of adult-oriented rock that characterises Virgin radio here : Take That and Michael Jackson will be banned in favour of INXS, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. David Campbell, the 35-year- old chief executive, has been put in charge of the scheme.

Virgin sources say that Branson would prefer to avoid the tangle of licensing laws by buying existing radio stations, thereby inheriting their licences. But the company refuses to disclose which stations are involved.

"We are looking at existing stations where there is a symbiosis with us," said Elly Smith, Virgin radio spokeswoman. "What we want to do is buy them through a majority shareholding."

Since its launch in 1993, Virgin has become Britain's most successful commercial radio station, with about 3.8 million listeners. It is making profits ahead of target and earlier this year won the right to broadcast on the FM band in London.

Media analysts say the network could be difficult to establish.

"Music is one of those globally recognisable things," said David Forster of stockbroker Smith New Court. "There should be room for an international radio product. But there are all sorts of obstacles. If you go to Taiwan and ask someone what Virgin means, the answer may not be Richard Branson."