Radio bid war looms: Guardian and Emap in struggle to control Trans World as Oyston decides to sell his stake

TWO OF Britain's biggest media groups - the Guardian Media Group and Emap - are struggling for control of Trans World Communications, Britain's second largest commercial radio company.

The battle, which has also been joined by Chrysalis, Capital Radio and would-be investors from the United States and Scandinavia, has been prompted by the sudden decision of Owen Oyston, the colourful millionaire, to sell his pivotal 24 per cent interest. Mr Oyston's associates are thought to speak for another 5 per cent in the group, which owns four radio stations: Piccadilly in Manchester; Red Rose in Lancashire; Red Dragon in South Wales and Aire in West Yorkshire.

Sources close to Trans World confirmed the shares were up for sale. Mr Oyston is thought to want to use the proceeds to redevelop the stadium of Blackpool Football Club, which he chairs.

At present, Emap holds 29.7 per cent - just short of the 30 per cent that automatically triggers a full bid - and the Guardian group has 20 per cent. If Emap were to purchase the Oyston shares it would launch a full bid and take over the company. Trans World's stations would be added to Radio City in Liverpool, which it already owns.

As the Guardian is the owner of a national newspaper, cross-media ownership rules prevent it from going above 20 per cent. It is believed to be keen to ensure the Oyston stake does not go to Emap but to a friendly investor. Once the market is deregulated, the Guardian would buy the shares back and seize control.

Capital wants to add to its influence in what is fast becoming a booming industry and stock market favourite. Shares in the London station have soared by 20 per cent in the past month. GWR Group, which owns a large slice of the hugely successful Classic FM, has seen its market valuation climb by an even better 40 per cent.

Much of that success has been prompted by two factors: better management and audience research across the industry; and the demise of Radio 1, which was once the dominant station for the all-important 15 to 34-year-old market. Trans World's Red Rose Rock FM, for example, now reaches 30 per cent of all adults in that age group in Lancashire - far ahead of Radio One.

Trans World, which is headed by John Whitney, the former director-general of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and chairman of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, has enjoyed a chequered history. If Mr Oyston sells his shares - he is believed to be looking for around pounds 20m for them - it would bring to an end a turbulent period in the company's history.

In 1991, Mr Oyston was ousted as chairman by the Guardian and Emap. Last year, it made its first profits since 1989, and Mr Whitney is bullish about the future.

Tim Schoonmaker, Emap's director on the Trans World board, said he could not comment. Mr Oyston refused to discuss the sale.

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