Yesterday with a “Good morning friends!” and the Beatles’ trusty “All You Need Is Love”, Chris Evans succeeded Terry Wogan as presenter of the BBC’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show sending a tremor through British radio-land, a shifting of the plates that, just because it had been long forecast by media seismologists, still left the sleepy feeling they might yet be dreaming and had breakfasting Britons knitting brows as their kettles whistled. Chris Evans, the former TV enfant terrible turned entrepreneur turned 43-year-old boy wonder – and surprisingly safe pair of hands – has replaced the one-man Mount Rushmore of British broadcasting, the emollient Sir Terry Wogan; 27 years in the saddle as the host of Radio 2’s breakfast show, known singularly as Wake Up To Wogan.
This small fact could be a footnote in what will no doubt be a busy year for international media squinting into the heat-haze to make sense of the shifting sands, but the Radio 2 succession is a little more important than a mere personnel change. It concerns the coaxing of a legion of obedient Nippers oh-so-used to cocking their head to their former Master’s Voice, the alchemy involved in constructing a seamless team of on and off-air talent and it asks big questions of the BBC itself.
The Radio 2 breakfast show is the most popular show on British radio and as such the biggest gig, talent-wise, in British broadcasting (other than for the best-loved stars of the two big soap operas, Britain’s on-air ardour is reserved for the intimate yet universal world of the radio DJ). As defined by Wogan’s years in the cockpit, nearly eight million listeners switch on between 07.00 and 09.30. Evans entertained around five million drivetimers in his old berth between 17.00 and 19.00 and will be hoping to lure his own fans across the hours to bolster listenership after the inevitable exit of elements of the Wogan faithful, some of whom will have been listening for the smallest slip in their long-established early morning protocol and will begin, some for the first time in those 27 years, turning their dusty dials to seek cosy morning radio in an unfamiliar broadcasting hearth.
What are the choices? Radio 4’s Today programme, the essential daily current affairs primer, is a bit of a leap for those searching for a spot of Glenn Campbell and a warming chat about the merits of pork pies. Radio 1’s Chris Moyles would provide plenty of pastry-centric banter but it would be buffered by Dizzee Rascal records. Radio 3 is led by classical music rather than a personality-presenter and Radio 5 Live’s Nicky Campbell’s abrasive tilt at Today-worthy cross-examination would have Woganites reaching for the Ofcom hotline as fast as the off switch. Classic FM’s breakfast slot, hosted by Simon Bates and his gooey baritone, could be a natural home but then there are commercials, and Schubert – good as he was – is no Neil Diamond, dear.
The dearth of alternatives, especially commercial alternatives, is clear – and this is not always to the BBC’s advantage. While the corporation’s bosses might fear a mini-exodus from their best-loved breakfast slot, many commercial stations are worried that the arrival of Evans – whom a large and lucrative swathe of 30 and 40-somethings remember as the most radical broadcaster of their age – will pick off his rivals one by one, if that slowly. That could mean great figures for the new show, but also complaints that the state broadcaster is trampling on its commercial counterparts unfairly to the detriment of competition and jobs in straitened times. In an election year when a lean-looking Conservative opposition are keen to be seen to be cutting excesses and fostering entrepreneurship, a big BBC strutting its stuff might be a bullet-worthy head above the parapet. Thus the BBC did not outwardly mourn the resignation of one of it, and Britain’s, best broadcasters – Radio 2 stalwart and chat-show maestro, Jonathan Ross when he broke his news last week.
Evans’s inclusivity, brilliance behind the mic and canny choices of on-air team (including the loved-and-lost and back-again old-timer BBC newsreader Moira Stewart) will see him through. Woganites will, for the most part, stay tuned with the volume down a tad, commercial radio will continue to be mostly bad radio abbreviated with worse commercials, while Evans, the BBC’s once-prodigal son might just help it cling onto its privileges when the tide comes in.