'I learned to toughen up': Jo Whiley on her Radio 2 drivetime experience

Jo Whiley

The new BBC Radio 2 schedule sees Jo Whiley back in her natural environment: hosting a new music-heavy evening show.

That’s been her speciality since co-hosting the iconic Evening Session show with Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 1 in the ‘90s. After a stint on Radio 1 lunchtimes, she also helmed a much-loved evening show on BBC Radio 2 from 2011.

But last year, she moved to co-host drivetime with Simon Mayo, a move that attracted unprecedented levels of audience criticism. The new schedule sees her move to a new evening slot, from 7-9pm, where she has made a flying start championing new artists and discussing popular culture with a stellar cast of guests.

Whiley also stars in this week’s print edition of Music Week, which takes an in-depth look at the new Radio 2, from Zoe Ball’s blockbusting breakfast show to the tweaks to the station’s music policy. And she took the time to look back on her bruising drivetime experience with Music Week…

How was the move to Drivetime for you?

“I can’t deny it was a challenging year! It was a shame it didn’t work out and a shame that Simon decided he wanted to leave, so we weren’t able to make the show the success I believe it could have been. That’s sad. But, at the same time, I’m super-happy to be doing the new show, which feels very much me in terms of the music output and the guests we interview. To have that freedom to do the show on my own is really wonderful. It was a really tough year.”

Why didn’t the show with Simon work?

“Well, I think it was working by the end. It was sticky in the beginning because you had two people who were adapting to each other and trying to work out how to do this show together. From the middle to the end it was a good show. It could have been a really big success. It could have worked, but Simon had so many other things that he wanted to do and he’s going to do over the next year, so he decided to leave.”

Was the criticism you personally received tough to take?

“Yeah, it was probably the first time that I’d been under such scrutiny, so that was quite hard to deal with. It was mind-boggling. I’m not used to being so much in the public eye and being so personally assessed and criticised. It was like a big sharp intake of breath and, ‘OK, this isn’t very nice’. But radio means so much to people, it’s so much part of people’s routine. People love knowing that a show is on then, this is what happens and this is how my day works. You’re totally enamoured and I’m the same. When a new DJ takes over a show it takes some getting used to, so those people who absolutely loved the drivetime show with Simon were really upset and sad that the show had changed. They were the harshest critics and that was hard to deal with, but ultimately it was OK. I learned to toughen up and get on with it. I made it through and I feel pretty invincible now. I have learned a lot and I know the most important things are family, friends and doing something that you absolutely love. And that’s what I’m going to be doing from here on in.” 

* For the full, exclusive Radio 2 story, starring Whiley, Ball, Sara Cox, Trevor Nelson and station bosses Lewis Carnie and Jeff Smith, see this week’s print edition of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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