BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show: What are the Options?

Post length: 2,449 words, almost 11 minutes.

Chris Evans will only stand down from hosting the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show to move to Virgin’s breakfast slot in December, but speculation is already rife about who might take over from him. Even the BBC themselves have got in on the act. So let’s join in and take a look at who might be in the frame.

Radio 2’s Big Names

Radio 2 seems most comfortable when it promotes from within. This is a pattern we have seen over and over. Chris Evans’ return to BBC radio, for example, started off with a series of one-off bank holiday shows before moving to a regular Saturday afternoon show, drivetime and ultimately breakfast. There are a number of names which regularly come up when discussing the subject who are all currently regular Radio 2 presenters.

Simon Mayo

One of the problems Lewis Carnie, head of Radio 2, might face is the schedule changes made earlier this year. One of the obvious choices to take over the breakfast slot would have been Simon Mayo, but the re-vamp of the station’s drivetime show in May may have sunk his chances.

Mayo has been with the station on and off since 2001, and has presented the drivetime slot since Evans’ move to breakfast in 2010. Like Evans he also hosted the Radio 1 breakfast show, taking the helm for 5 years before moving to mid-mornings on the station, and indeed hosted the show again in the immediate aftermath of Evans’ dismissal from the station.

The schedule shake-up in May saw Mayo paired with Jo Whiley in a move some have suggested was intended to address mounting critisism of the station’s all-male prime-time lineup. The change made to the drivetime show has come under fire itself, however, with listeners taking to Facebook and Twitter to express their displeasure and with one online petition asking for the change to be reversed having gained over 15,500 signatures. In response Carnie has vigorously defended the new drivetime format, explaining that any new show needs time to “bed in”, and that it would not be changing back in response to the complaints.

And this is the problem for Carnie. Much was made in the media of the complaints and in turn of the station’s unwavering support for the new format, so to now take Mayo off the show, leaving Whiley to host it alone, or bringing someone altogether different in, might well look like an admission that the move hadn’t worked out. When Carnie told Radio 4’s Feedback programme that in six month’s time “it will be a very different show,” I doubt he was suggesting it might be because the station had broken up the pairing altogether. This suggests to me that despite Mayo’s qualifications, in order to save face Mayo and Whiley will be left on drivetime.

Sara Cox

If you wanted to place a bet on Evans’ replacement, Sara Cox wouldn’t win you much money and it’s easy to see why Cox is the bookie’s favourite. For one thing she’s been the regular stand-in for Evans’ frequent holidays over the last couple of years. During this time she’s developed her own features and nurtured a rapport with the audience.

Sara Cox is another ex-Radio 1 breakfast show presenter and regular Radio 2 presenter. Indeed she was given a daily show as part of the May schedule reshuffle, albeit from 10pm to midnight. While her style style is quite different to that of Evans she has seemingly grown older gracefully and managed to successfully shed her ‘ladette’ label making her palatable to the Radio 2 listenership.

Perhaps it’s also worth mentioning that during her time at Radio 1 Cox broke Evans’ record listening figures. Might this be something that Carnie would be looking to replicate by giving her the Radio 2 breakfast show?

Zoe Ball

Zoe Ball is another interesting suggestion. Currently hosting a show on the station on Saturday afternoon, similarly to Cox she has grow up with the station’s audience. In addition, her participation in and subsequent hosting of Strictly Come Dancing has not only arguably helped to change the public perception of her, but continues to keep her profile high.

Another of the ex-Radio 1 presenters who have made the switch to Radio 2, Ball has also been a stand-in for Evans a number of times. This appears to have become less frequent in recent years, however, with schedulers seeming to prefer Sara Cox. That said, Ball, who was he first solo female presenter of the Radio 1 breakfast show, could still be seen as a safe pair of hands to take over the show.

I think Zoe Ball would be an interesting choice. While it would mean quite a change in the slot, but Radio 2 is personality led, and the change from Wogan to Evans was a big change too. Perhaps it would be foolish to try to reproduce the existing show with a new host no matter how successful the current format is, and therefore a complete change to Ball’s laid-back style might not be an undesirable thing

Radio 2 Regulars

As well as the big names there are some other possibilities on the Radio 2 rosta. The following might not all have regular slots, but have been tested been on and off the station in recent years.

Liza Tarbuck

The first on our list not to have graduated from Radio 1 to Radio 2, Tarbuck’s irrelevant style might be a good fit for the breakfast show. Reminiscent of Terry Wogan’s tenure on the show we know that Radio 2’s audience responds well to this style. But perhaps time has moved on.

I would also be concerned if Tarbuck’s style, which works so well on Saturday evenings, would transfer to weekday mornings. There would certainly be work to be done to flesh out her current show to a 5-days-a-week breakfast show.

Dermot O’Leary

This is one name I am surprised hasn’t come up more. O’Leary has been with the station since 2004 and currently hosts the Saturday breakfast show.

There may be a couple of factors would put O’Leary out of the frame. Firstly he is still the regular presenter of ITV’s X Factor. Taking on two high-profile presenting roles would perhaps be too demanding (indeed it is something Evans has tried a number of times, arguably none of which have ended in resounding success). In addition his Saturday afternoon show had been based around new music and live sessions, something which appears close to O’Leary’s heart, and which may put him off accepting a much more regular, main-stream radio job.

Vanessa Feltz

Since 2011 Feltz has hosted the early breakfast show on the station. It might make sense for her to step up to the main breakfast show.

While Feltz has won plaudits for her work in her current slot, her style is perhaps too laid-back for the mainstream breakfast slot. That said, she often covers for Jeremy Vine’s more news-based daytime show so clearly can change her style to suit.

Ultimately I think a move from early breakfast to breakfast isn’t likely. From a scheduling point of view you want the early breakfast show to be much more low-key, and the breakfast show higher-paced. Replacing Feltz in the earlier slot might present a challenge, too, given how well her style fits this part of the schedule.

Other Options from Radio 2

Mark Goodier

A familiar voice on Radio 2, Goodier has been heard across the day covering for a number of different regular presenters. Although often used as a last-minute stand-in, Goodier fronted the station’s breakfast show for a week when Evans was on a planned holiday recently.

When Goodier left Smooth, his last full-time presenting job, he did so to make time to concentrate on his successful production company, Wisebuddah. That was back in 2012. Perhaps, 7 years on, he will be looking to return to the airwaves full time.

Fearne Cotton

Fearn Cotton was first heard on Radio 2 in 2016 sitting in for Graham Norton on Saturday morning. She has also covered Ken Bruce’s mid-morning weekday show a number of times. Perhaps more significantly Cotton sat in for Chris Evans as recently as April. Despite this, she has not has a regular radio programme since leaving Radio 1 to have her second child in 2015.

Perhaps Cotton’s biggest challenge is her age. At a sprightly 37 she only just falls into Radio 2’s target audience herself. While her radio style is warm and welcoming, it might be considered that she would appeal to too young an audience to take on the station’s flagship programme at this time.

As of the time of writing, Cotton is sitting in for Claudia Winkleman on her Sunday evening show. Perhaps this is a precursor to Cotton taking on a regular show in place of the new breakfast show presenter, should that presenter come from the station’s weekend lineup.

Mark Radcliffe

Mark and Lard (Mark Riley) presented the Radio 1 breakfast show in 1997 for 235 days. The pair split up in 2004 when Radcliffe moved to Radio 2 and Riley moved to BBC Radio 6 Music. Since then Radcliffe has presented various different shows on Radio 2, notably joining forces with Stuart Maconie in 2007, the pair going on to win the Sony award for best radio show in 2009. More recently Radcliffe has presented the station’s folk show and coverage of the folk awards.

While Radcliffe has presented daytime shows on both Radio 1 and Radio 2, he has moved much more into specialist programming. It is for this reason I don’t see Radcliffe being a likely candidate to take over from Evans.

Other BBC Presenters

While Radio 2 seems to like to test presenters with the audience in less prime-time slots before promoting them to the high profile jobs, there are a few possibilities currently working elsewhere on BBC Radio.

Richard Bacon

Bacon presented BBC Radio 5 Live’s mid-afternoon show from 2010 until 2014 after joining the station in 2007. He is no stranger to Radio 2 having covered a number of daytime shows, but has not been heard on the station since 2016. He has also worked on music stations Capital FM and XFM.

Bacon’s time with 5 Live wasn’t without controversy and this might make him too risky an option to take over the biggest breakfast show in the country. Besides, given he currently lives in L.A., the offer would have to be a good one to tempt him and his family back to the UK.

Scott Mills

Something of a left-field suggestion, Scott Mills currently has a daytime slot on Radio 1. Mills has been on Radio 2, however, most recently presenting a specialist show on 28th May this year.

While Mills is undoubtedly a skilled broadcaster, he might still not be quite the right fit for the Radio 2 audience at this time. He still achieves good listening figures on Radio 1, not to mention apparently being their go-to stand-in for the Radio 1 breakfast show, so management there might also not be keen to see him leave.

Presenting one-off shows during bank holidays is not an uncommon way to join Radio 2, indeed it’s the way that Evans was first tested on the station. Perhaps if Mills makes a move to the station full time over the next couple of years, he could be in line to take on the breakfast show when Evans’ replacement decides it’s time to move on.

Outside the BBC

There is, of course, a world outside of the BBC. There are a number of big commercial players, mostly in London, who have recognisable names hosting shows throughout the day. I find it unlikely, but could Carnie take the industry by surprise by offering the job to one of these?

Jamie Theakston

Theakston has a history in radio as well as a history with the BBC. His broadcasting career began while at university working for BBC GLR and at the turn of the millennium Theakston was presenting a show on Radio 1. Since then he’s gone on to win numerous awards for radio presenting. However it’s been a while since Theakston presented on his own, the current Heart breakfast show being a two-header with Emma Bunton, and Radio 2 doesn’t seem too comfortable with that format as this year’s drivetime debacle has highlighted. Perhaps taking Theakston out of this environment and dropping him into such a high profile slot might be too much of a risk.

Ronan Keating

Another current breakfast presenter, the format of Keating’s Magic breakfast is also the tried and tested commercial staple of the two-header. Indeed arguably Harriet Scott leads this program, as the radio professional, with Keating as the big name to draw the audience. As such Ronan would be a big gamble, and rumors of Boyzone’s goodbye tour in 2019 almost certainly put him out of contention for Radio 2’s flagship.

Christian O’Connell

O’Connell has been presenting breakfast shows since 1998 and has worked for stations ranging from Bournemouth’s 2CR (now part of the Heart network) through to XFM and Absolute Radio. He does have some experience at the BBC having taken on some presenting work for Radio 5 Live. He has never made the move from commercial music radio to BBC music radio, however.

A very capable pair of hands, with 11 Gold Sony Awards under his belt, perhaps O’Connell’s biggest obstacle to being selected for the job would be his style. Having most recently worked for more rock-focussed stations he might have to tame his style to fit Radio 2’s older demographic. That said, O’Connell’s move to Melbourne’s Gold 104.3 in June does suggest a mellowing of his style, albeit on the other side of the world.

Richard Allinson

Currently presenting Magic drivetime, Allinson is historically no stranger to Radio 2. He has become known for his laid-back style since leaving Capital Radio in the late 1990s and would fit the audience well. I would, however, question Allinson’s suitability for a breakfast show, being the kind of presenter I would most comfortably place in the afternoon or early evening. Perhaps for this reason Richard would not be at the top of the list to replace Evans.

Toby Anstis

Anstis is, perhaps, best known to my generation for his presenting duties on Children’s BBC in mid-1990s. Unusually for most people on this list, Anstis came to radio presenting after he had already found notoriety for his work on TV. Despite his relatively short radio career he currently presents the mid-morning show across Heart’s national network and was nominated for Presenter of the Year at the Arqiva commercial radio awards in 2011.

While Ansist is a known quantity trusted with the Heart network’s audience daily, he has never presented such a high-profile breakfast show. What is more he has never worked in BBC radio. To make the move directly from mid-morning commercial radio to the most listened to breakfast show in the UK might well be a step too far, ruling Anstis out of the equation.

Posted on Wednesday 19th September, 2018 at 11:52 am in Arts & Ents, Obiter dicta.
It was tagged with , , , , , .

Leave a comment