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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - An Australian radio station hard hit by the economic downturn managed to ask Richard Branson for A$1 million ($808,400) after a month-long campaign to grab his attention -- and the British entrepreneur politely refused.
Independent Sydney radio FBi, which helped launch popular bands such as Wolfmother and The Vines, had asked listeners to come up with ways to ask Branson for funding, throwing in a A$50,000 ($40,400) cash prize for the most creative approach.
The station's "Ask Richard" campaign, which included T-shirts printed with a silhouette of his head, involved supporters busking on the streets, sky-diving and creating a video game to get the billionaire's attention.
On Monday, FBi finally got a call from Branson who said he found out about the campaign when an Australian woman swam 2.5 miles to his Caribbean island to tell him about it.
"We were having an early evening dinner and a rather soaking wet Australian girl stumbled into the dinner room," Branson told FBi's Alison Piotrowski from his home on Necker Island.
"She'd swum two and a half miles from another island to our island to tell us about the campaign. She had a great dinner and she stayed the night and I contacted my Australia office to find out what was going on," he added.
Piotrowski told Branson that several corporate sponsors had pulled out since the beginning of the year due to the financial crisis, and the station was in financial difficulty.
When she asked him directly for the money, Branson declined but pledged his support for the station, offering four economy and business class tickets on his Virgin Atlantic Airways and V Australia airlines to London and Los Angeles, as well as tickets to the London music festival, V Fest, in August.
"I'm afraid I wasn't able to give you a big check, but I will continue to support you," Branson said. "I think that part of the difficulty we have is that everybody, everyday likes to ask for a million bucks or more."
Piotrowski said the station had picked Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group that spans businesses ranging from music to space tourism, because he "loved music and was a risk-taker with an obvious sense of fun."
($1 = 1.237 Australian dollar)
Writing by Miral Fahmy, editing by Sugita Katyal