Raymond Snoddy on media: Brave Bernard's legacy will linger on

So farewell then, Ralph Bernard. You peed off the City royally, and I'm afraid that David Mansfield, the former Capital Radio Group boss, and quite a few others, including Kelvin MacKenzie, will never be your friends.

But your achievements in commercial radio were quite remarkable.

It is sad to be using the past tense but when you walk out into the snow, that's it - even if there is a symbolic chairmanship of Classic FM to ease the blow.

The interesting question is who eased the GCap chief executive out? He virtually created the biggest group in UK commercial radio, was wedded to the industry and is still six years away from his bus pass. So it is preposterous to suggest that Bernard woke up one morning and told his wife that it was time to go. In fact, the anonymous drafters of corporate resignation statements are going to have to sharpen their pencils in future to come up with something more credible.

Leaving to 'spend more time with my family' has become too risible a phrase to use. Now Bernard's reason - 'the time is right to stand down as chief executive' - has surely gone the same way.

Perhaps it is time to try something closer to the truth, for a change. Was it a case of assisted suicide of the sort they cater for in Switzerland? Maybe it was over dinner with non-executive chairman Richard Eyre that the realisation suddenly dawned that it was time to push off. If it was so, then the culprits orchestrating matters almost certainly reside in the City.

It is there that the charge sheet against Bernard is extensive. He marched GWR Group into foreign adventures. When that failed, he had no other choice but to make a virtue of the all-UK policy.

Much more serious was the bungling of the merger between GWR and Capital. Mergers often destroy shareholder value unless they are handled carefully. But, by any standards, the disappearance of the GCap share price over the edge of a cliff in 2005 was unusual, particularly when it was the sort of commercial radio consolidation that the City had been seeking for years.

The painfully unimaginative name didn't help and aptly symbolised the debacle to come.

But the most important reason that Bernard reached 'the right time to go' was digital. He believed in the future of digital radio to an almost unreasonable degree and just kept investing the profits. He is a founding member of the Tony Blair Right Thing To Do school.

The effects of this courageous strategy were compounded when he made clear his contempt for the City's short-termism and told them he had no intention of changing his mind. They always get you in the end for that sort of thing, Ralph, though a looming recession might have been the final straw.

His abiding memorial will, of course, be the growing success of digital radio in the UK. It was Bernard who used GWR money to pay for the integrated chips for the sets when nobody in commercial radio or the consumer electronics industry wanted to know. He was absolutely right. It is sad that he will not be around much when the promised land is finally reached.

His achievement in launching Classic FM is less ambiguous. When David Mellor bent legislation to make space for a commercial classical station, almost nobody in radio or the City wanted to know. Bernard had to run around with a begging tin and made it with only hours to spare. It is his enduring legacy, and this Classic FM listener salutes him.

Bernard once toyed with the notion of getting GWR to buy Leyton Orient FC, before rejecting the idea as inappropriate. Now, if his successor finally manages to get GCap's share price up, Bernard should be rich enough to buy the club on his own.


- Ralph Bernard started his broadcasting career in the newsroom of Radio Hallam in Sheffield.

- He completed his first merger in 1985, when Wiltshire Radio, where he was managing director, bought Radio West.

- He has been a chairman or chief executive continuously since 1984.

- In May 2005, Bernard became executive chairman of GCap Media, formed by the merger of Capital and GWR. He reverted to the role of chief executive in January 2006.

- On GCap Media's first day, there was a profits warning. The ensuing advertising recession cost the company a fifth of its £250m annual revenue.

- Bernard's hobbies include collecting Wisden cricket almanacs.

- In 2002, he was awarded a CBE for his services to the broadcasting industry.

- Bernard finished this year's London Marathon in five and a half hours.


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