Virgin wins one of six new slots on London's airwaves

RICHARD BRANSON's Virgin Radio group has won one of the six London licences announced by the Radio Authority yesterday.

The station has been awarded a new FM frequency to broadcast Virgin's existing service, which goes out nationally on 1215 AM, with speech content tailored to London.

As expected, Capital Radio, which has been broadcasting for 21 years, retained its frequencies. Crystal FM, an adult contemporary service, picked up the second new FM frequency, while two new AM frequencies went to Radio Viva, a speech and music format for women, and the speech-based London Christian Radio.

The most fevered competition was in the adult contemporary sector, where there were 13 applications to provide mainstream soft rock pitched at the thirtysomething generation. But the decision to award FM licences to an adult contemporary station as well as Virgin will dismay many in the industry who believed the authority's primary aim was to extend listener choice.

Not only are there broad similarities in the musical output of both services, but Virgin is already broadcasting its rock-orientated service nationally on 1215 AM, which will lead to 'simulcasting', a practice the authority has been anxious to purge.

But Lord Chalfont, the authority's chairman, defended the award, arguing that a significant number of Londoners were being deprived of the chance to listen to Virgin because of the 'inferior' quality of its AM frequency in the capital.

'Extending choice is not the only function of the authority in awarding its licences. We also to have to ensure programme quality,' he said. 'I don't profess to be a great expert on popular music, but there does seem to be a considerable difference between adult contemporary and rock.'

The awards mean that the authority has once again passed up the opportunity to introduce radically different music and speech formats more clearly aimed at young listeners. X-FM, an indie music-based service backed by Robert Smith of The Cure and the band's label, Fiction Records, had been widely tipped to win.

From 1973 to 1987, there were two commercial radio stations specifically for London - Capital and LBC. Today there are 15. The new licences will run for eight years.