VMR: Virgin Megastores Radio & My Part in It (Part 2)

VMR: Virgin Megastores Radio & My Part in It (Part 2)

In part 2 of this blog about my time at Virgin Megastores Radio (VMR) I recall some of the higher profile events that I was involved with, the stations wind-down and subsequent closure.

Outside events
From 1996 to 1999, Virgin Retail signed a sponsorship deal with the V and the Reading Festivals. To support this, VMR, during shop opening hours, was broadcast live from Reading and Chelmsford leg of V.

I provided temporary studio facilities at the V Chelmsford and Reading sites. In the case of Reading these were in a purpose-built “shed” type thing in the back-stage hospitality marquee, whilst at Chelmsford it was a large Portakabin, divided into a studio and audio production area, located in the VIP area. At each site an ISDN line was booked and, as the station had aleady had an APT-X Codec in the studio, I hired another one to complete the link back to the Oxford Street studio.

VMR Studio at The Reading Festival 99

 The VMR Broadcast Shed at The Reading Festival

At each festival, as part of the usual music and interview programming, we took feeds from the various stages, recorded these to locally installed Denon Minidisc recorders, editing them in the studio and replayed it as part of the programming. Considering that they were PA mixes the quality wasn’t that bad.

VMR V99 Edit Studio

View of the edit facilities at VMR Reading 98.

The desk is a Soudcraft Spirit Folio. In the rack are a Sony DAT machine and Denon MD recorder/players 


Iain at V 98

 The author rigging the studio - I still have that "Monheiser" earpiece!


VMR V99 studio

View of the Soundcraft Series 10 desk and studio kit that was used

to produce the service from the Chelmsford V 98 Festival

In 1999, Virgin Retail opened a store in London’s Kings Road with a Mod themed launch, to tie-in with the 1960s Mod vibe of the area. Paul Weller and his band was booked to perform and I was tasked with taking split feeds from the stage, mixing it for broadcast and getting the signal back, via ISDN, to Oxford Street. Everyone connected with the event spent the day rigging for the 3pm gig, but, with about 20 minutes to go, Paul cancelled for reasons I have never found out. A great disappointment as I was looking forward to mixing a major artist’s performance

During these various OB events I recall:

  • Watching, stage side, The Prodigy deliver a blinding set at the Reading Festival, after the encore Maxim just ran off stage, jumped into his open-top Mercedes and was off site in a flash. So rock ‘n’ roll! 
  • At V Chelmsford, a still very well-known TV newsreader getting very drunk and vocal in the free VIP bar.
  • At V98, driving the band Gomez around the festival site in a golf-cart: At the time their single “Whippin Piccadilly” was doing well in the charts.
  • Meeting, a very out-of-his-head, Noel Gallagher back stage at Reading 99 IIRC. I know he wasn’t on the line-up, so I’m not sure what he was there (and, by the state he was in, neither did Noel!)
  • The night before the opening of V96 we were in the hotel bar having a drink when the station manager introduced a new presenter to us. “This is Ricky. “ He said. “He’s joining us for the festival”. “Ricky” was Ricky Gervais, who at the time was doing stand-up and looking to gain media experience.

Notable presenters during the stations history, and ones I worked with, were:
• Ian Camfield (XFM and stations in the US)
• Nick Abbott (Virgin Radio)
• James Merritt (XFM and Kiss 100)

In the early 2000s, with the rise of online sales, things obviously took a downturn for record and entertainment shops. I recall a sales manager saying that, if you had bad sales at Christmas you were stuffed for the year, and I think Virgin Retail suffered more than one poor festive sales period.

As part of a busiess wide cost cutting exercise, first live programming was discontinued and then the satellite delivered service: Stores playing music out locally instead. VMR effectively closed.

Wandering into the Megastore afte the closure, it was great shame to look up and see the studio pod with its unused equipment and even more so after the 2007 management buyout, the rebranding as Zavvi and its subsequent collapse, to see the Oxford Street building demolished when the whole area was redeveloped.

I assume the studios and their kit became some much builders rubble.

Zavvi Oxford Street

The end of VMR: The Oxford Street Megastore rebranded as Zavvi

I enjoyed my time at VMR, made some good friend and still have the studio documentation to show for it!

The pictures tell their own story and I have more around somewhere, shot on an instamatic (no camera-phones back then!) If I get around to scanning them, I will post them on AV Resilience's social media pages.

I apologise in advance if I have got some of my dates wrong but if you were involved in VMR or recall listening to it, please drop me a line.

Iain Betson