Kelvin MacKenzie plans £170m float of Wireless radio group

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The Independent Online

After surviving a newspaper career built on taking editorial risks, the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie is taking his biggest gamble yet with a £170m bid to float his loss-making Wireless radio venture on the stock market.

Mr MacKenzie, who owns 7 per cent and whose partners include Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, aims to float 25 per cent of the group by June to raise funds for further acquisitions and internet investment.

"It's unreasonable to expect the shareholders to keep bearing the burden and we need money for acquisitions in radio, and new media opportunities generally," Mr MacKenzie said. "We want to move alongside any technology [or] media that is audio related."

Remembered for inventing stunts such as Topless Darts as head of the now defunct Live TV and for pushing The Sun relentlessly downmarket during the 1980s, Mr MacKenzie's move into radio has drawn mixed reviews. Since rebranding Talk Radio as TalkSport, the number of listeners has also been on the slide. "It's a minnow quite frankly," said an analyst. "It's one of those businesses investors will hope that with Murdoch there, it will go a long way."

Perhaps. Under Mr MacKenzie's continued leadership, however, float adviser WestLB Panmure has pencilled in operating losses for 2000 of £8.7m, falling to £5.4m in 2001.

Wireless has interests in 11 regional radio stations through the £47m acquisition of The Radio Partnership. It also bought The Independent Radio Group, which operates seven local radio stations, for £22m.

Wireless aims to launch a new digital radio station called Bloomberg talkMoney with the US financial news and information provider and the fellow radio group GWR. It also plans to invest in several local music and sport stations as well as in the sports portal talksport.net.

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