Richard Wheatly plans flotation for Jazz FM

Former Leo Burnett head honcho Richard Wheatly has always had a thing about tiny radio station Jazz FM. Now he clearly believes he can make some serious money from it.

His links with the station go back 20 years when he rescued it from the clutches of the idealistic but resolutely uncommercial founders of the station. Over a decade or so he built it up into a viable proposition and sold it to the Guardian Media Group for £44.5 million in 2002.

It must have seemed like a betrayal when GMG floundered around with the station and three years later turned it into the blandest of bland Smooth FM, one of those instantly forgettable stations that float around the airwaves for no very good reason.

So two years ago Wheatly relaunched Jazz FM as a digital-only brand under licence from GMG and The Local Radio Company where he happened to be executive chairman. Then last year he stepped down from his TLRC role to focus on Jazz, and now, with backing from Herald Ventures, he has acquired the station once again with a view to an eventual flotation.

This might seem a grandiose scheme for a station with under half a million listeners and a 0.2 per cent audience share.

Yet Wheatly was one of the first to understand the potential of the internet for niche radio. Jazz is on the android, nokia, Blackberry and iphone platforms and is claimed to be the most popular radio app in the UK and the US. It has also said it will be the first UK station to broadcast on the Europe-wide satellite radio platform, Ondas Media, when it launches next year.

So if Jazz does get listed it won’t be a stock for widows and orphans but it might just fulfil Wheatly’s financial dreams.

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.