— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) May 13, 2018
Every CEO tries to pump up their industry – and of course, their company. But during this time of massive disruption, it's not always easy to make that sale to cynical employees, fickle customers, jaded advertisers, and skeptical investors.
Unless, of course, you're Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group – a collection of 400 companies that span the globe, including commercial aviation, banking, mobile phones, travel, space travel, films…and radio.
Like the U.S. business magnate, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Branson enjoys owning a potpourri of companies, noting that “Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming.”
And in his mind, broadcast radio is one of those opportunities. For a collection of companies representing all these diverse industries to proudly include radio says something. Especially when it comes from a business icon like Sir Richard.
Like Branson, Bezos is also bullish on an industry that most observors say is all but over – newspapers. And yet, his purchase of the Washington Post has invigorated that iconic publication, as well as teaching a lot of old dogs in the Fourth Estate about how to run a newspaper.
What does it say about two of the most famous captains of industry on the planet that traditional media is a prominent part of their portfolios?
Bezos is making his statement with print, and Branson is doing it with radio. His Virgin Radio stations occupy the airwaves across the globe, including Canada, France, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Lebanon, Romania, Switzerland, and the UK, generating an estimaed $130 million.
But not in the U.S.
Chances are, he would if he could, but due to an FCC regulation that prohibits foreign ownership of American radio, Branson has to make his radio picks in other countries.
Some of you may remember a post that appeared here one year ago – “Make Radio Great Again.” It highlighted an Australian couple, Richard and Sharon Burns, who were granted an exception to that rule, allowing them to acquire Frontier Media, a company with stations in Alaska and Arkansas. That, however, is an exception, and there's not a flow of international companies attempting to buy U.S. radio properties.
Virgin recently celebrated a quarter century of radio ownership, and the champagne was flowing. Quoting “Born To Be Wild,” Branson in a celebratory company memo noted the power of radio passion:
“People were tuning for the DJs as much as the music. It became a part of the day for thousands of young people, and turned into a highly profitable business in the process.”
You can read his entire memo here.
It is exciting to see a radio owner so geeked about his business that popping bubbly just seems like the right thing to do.
Whether Sir Richard would be interested in spreading the Virgin Radio brand to the States is not known. But perhaps the type of deregulation that might energize the U.S. radio industry would be the kind that greenlights foreign ownership, allowing enthusiastic investors like him to participate in American radio.
But maybe we draw the line at Russia.
As we head into all those “XX Days of Summer” promotions over the next few months, let's not forget the words of Richard Branson, one of the most successful and inspirational entrepreneurs in all the world:
“Radio is alive and kicking.”
Or as Sir Richard might say it, “Absobloodylutely.”
Postscript: Noted radio maven, Nik Goodman, corrects this post, nothing that Virgin doesn't own stations, but licenses its brand. Thus, any U.S. radio station could license the Virgin Radio brand. This, from the Virgin website:
Although wholly owned by the Virgin Group, Virgin Radio International partners with leading media groups in North America, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. These media groups are attracted by the potential of the iconic Virgin Radio brand with its appeal to both advertisers and listeners, and to Virgin’s unique approach to maximising the performance of commercial radio businesses acquired from over 20 years of experience in the industry.
Thanks to Lori Lewis.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.