In a surprise announcement, Chris Evans revealed on air today (September 3) that he is leaving the Radio 2 Breakfast Show after eight years. Evans is also quitting Radio 2, where he first broadcast 13 years ago.
It has now been confirmed that Evans will move to the Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio, now a different operation under the Wireless Group to the network he left almost 20 years ago.
Evans said: “In many ways Virgin Radio is my spiritual home. I see nothing but exciting and groundbreaking opportunities ahead. In a medium that is changing so quickly on a daily basis, the potential for growth is unprecedented. Our plan is: to give it all we’ve got, see where we can get to and have the most possible fun along the way. It makes me smile every time I think about it.”
Scott Taunton, CEO of Wireless, added: “We are beyond thrilled that Chris has chosen to come back to Virgin Radio. He is the biggest name in radio and is synonymous with the brand. He has the most exciting Breakfast Show in the industry and has an energy that captivates audiences. This is a transformational moment for Virgin Radio since it relaunched two years ago. It is the next stage of our radio revolution, giving us a world-class presenter and a nationally recognised breakfast show that will drive audience growth for the station, across DAB, our app and all forms of connected listening. Sam and Amy have done a fantastic job building the Virgin Radio Breakfast Show and we look forward to continuing to work with them as part of the Virgin Radio team.”
Evans is the latest big-name departure after a lengthy tenure on Breakfast radio, following the replacement of Nick Grimshaw by Greg James and the announcement that Lauren Laverne will take over from Shaun Keaveny on 6 Music. Over on commercial, Dave Berry has stepped in at Absolute after another longstanding host, Christian O’Connell, left after 12 years.
But Evans is the big beast of Breakfast with the most popular show in the UK - his ratings are the biggest in Europe. Evans took over from Sir Terry Wogan as the host of the Radio 2 Breakfast Show in January 2010, peaking at 9.91 million listeners in 2014. In the latest set of RAJAR figures, Evan was still above 9m.
The shock announcement means that this week’s Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park concert, at which many of the presenters and executives gather, will likely be dominated by gossip and intrigue.
It’s also a headache for head of Radio 2, Lewis Carnie, who will now have to find a replacement for early in 2019 that satisfies the network’s change-averse audience. The Breakfast Show has only had five different presenters since 1972, all of them male including two spells for Wogan. Brian Hayes lasted less than a year in 1992, which underlines the challenge of getting the right fit.
The show’s male-dominated history puts pressure on Carnie to find a female host for the first time, though the appointment of Jo Whiley as Drivetime co-presenter has proved controversial with listeners. But Radio 2 does have proven Breakfast Show presenters with ex-Radio 1 hosts Sara Cox (who’s stood in for Evans) and Zoe Ball. There’s also an opportunity for 44-year-old Scott Mills to make a timely leap from the youth network.
Just as Wogan returned for a second time, Carnie could be tempted to move Ken Bruce back to the slot he held in the mid-‘80s as a safe pair of hands - although he may be reluctant to mess around with that mid-morning slot. Simon Mayo also seems a likely choice to be drafted into Breakfast, though it would require Drivetime listeners to come around to the idea of Whiley.
Jeremy Vine is presumably too busy with his move to Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff. Former Radio 4 presenter Eddie Mair might be tempted back but he’s just started at LBC today (September 3). O'Connell is now in Australia, though seems one of the few commercial radio hosts who might fit on Radio 2 (and his name should guarantee decent ratings).
He has taken Breakfast radio to new heights and is one of the greats
Evans said: “I have absolutely loved every single moment of my time at Radio 2. The last 13 years have flashed by in what seems like the blink of an eye. I have learnt so much from so many people to whom I will be eternally grateful. As Sir Terry said before me, there’s never a right time to leave something you love but there might be a wrong time if you hang on too long. I honestly think The Breakfast Show is currently as positive, useful, sunny and inclusive as it has ever been. In fine shape for its next custodian. Whoever that turns out to be, I wish them all the very best, they are in for an absolute blast.”
Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, said: “Chris has been an absolutely first-class presenter of the Breakfast Show. He has brought both warmth and a genuine insight into what listeners want. He has given 100% to each of his BBC projects, including raising millions of pounds for Children in Need. I’d like to thank him for all his efforts over the years and wish him all the best for the future.”
Evans first joined Radio 2 in September 2005 as the host of the Saturday afternoon show, moving to Drivetime in April 2006. He won Sony Music Radio Personality of the Year in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and Drivetime won The Entertainment Award in 2007 and 2009.
Bob Shennan, director, BBC Radio and Music, said: “Chris has been done an incredible job for Radio 2 for more than a decade. He has taken Breakfast radio to new heights and is one of the greats. We will miss him and plan to build an even stronger station, taking inspiration from both his, and his predecessor Sir Terry Wogan’s, legacy.”
Carnie added: “Over the past eight years on Breakfast, Chris has built an incredibly close relationship with the Radio 2 audience. I’d like to thank him, on behalf of them all, for becoming their friend via the airwaves. We look forward to launching a brand new Radio 2 Breakfast Show early in the New Year.”