Classic FM may expand into finance

GWR, the acquisitive commercial radio group, is considering expanding its Classic FM brand into financial services. It also hopes to take the radio station, which made its first profit this year, around the world. Cathy Newman reports on GWR's plans for Classic.

Ralph Bernard, GWR's chief executive, said yesterday he was looking at extending the Classic FM brand into other products such as financial services. The station already has its own magazine and a joint venture classical music label.

"We'll look at anything that will extend the value of the brands we own," Mr Bernard said, adding that financial services was one area being looked at.

"That is one area where there's potential as more than 10 per cent of Classic's advertising revenue is from financial services."

Mr Bernard said that listeners had developed a close relationship with the classical radio station, and that related services under the Classic FM brand name would win people's trust.

"The relationship we have with listeners is very different from other media. Radio is a friend to listeners," he said.

Radio groups which have tried to expand into unrelated areas have had their fingers burnt in the past.

Capital Radio, for example, upset the City when it acquired the My Kinda Town restaurant chain last year. Mr Bernard yesterday ruled out any involvement with the restaurant business.

Classic FM, which GWR bought for more than pounds 70m last year, made an operating profit of pounds 1.8m for the six months to the end of September.

It launched in South Africa in September and now has a 5 per cent share of the market there. Mr Bernard said he hoped to take the station to other territories soon.

However, the management focus on reorganising Classic FM hit revenue growth at some of the local stations, GWR disclosed yesterday.

Local advertising revenues were virtually flat, which was in part because of a high turnover of senior staff at the local stations. However, the group added that the local markets had been performing better since the end of the half year.

For the six months, GWR reported a 27 per cent increase in profits before tax to pounds 6.1m. The shares edged up 0.5p to 174p.

GWR confirmed its commitment to digital radio by establishing a new division to look at the new technology. The company is expected to put in a bid for the licence to run national digital radio services.