A good breakfast sets you up for the day

Chris Evans Chris Evans' 'sheer force of personality make people want to listen to him'

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In Skyfall, the new 'Q' is a geeky graduate aged about 25 - a digital native whose gadgets have nothing to do with exploding pens. Bond, M and the men (and now women!) at the Ministry have at last woken up to the fact that the enemy they're fighting is not Octopussy or Goldfinger anymore.

In radio, Breakfast programmes have traditionally been the most powerful show of the day, pulling in audiences far bigger than any of the daytime output. But they too are fighting on all fronts these days, the massive rise in competition from other media presenting them with an enemy far less visible than a couple of decades ago.

GLR used to worry about Capital Radio, Radio Sussex about Southern Sound and Radio Scotland about Radio Clyde. Nobody knew about mobile, online or social media, as nobody knew about cyber ballistics and a rogue ex-spook with a grudge against Judi Dench.

Stay all day

When quarterly Rajar figures are released it's Breakfast that station managers are interested in - largely because get Breakfast right and the rest of the schedule seems to take care of itself.

'For reasons that even seasoned schedulers don't fully understand, if you can grab a big audience early in the morning, it tends to stay with you all day,' says the Telegraph's William Langley. 'Call it loyalty, call it laziness, it nevertheless means that whoever's being listened to over the Coco Pops can, well, have the competition for Breakfast.'

John Humphrys Record share for John Humphrys' Today

Many BBC programmes seem to be getting the formula right. Radio 4's Today, which claimed an audience of 6.9m and a record share of 17.5% in the last Rajars, is more popular than Radio 1 for the first time. The performance of Nick Grimshaw, who recently took over from Chris Moyles at Radio 1 breakfast, will be closely watched when the next Rajars are released.

At 6 Music, which reached a record 1.6m listeners in the last quarter, Breakfast is a major player. Shaun Keaveny now has the second biggest show on the network with 652,000 listeners - up an incredible 72% on the year.

'Force of nature'

But Chris Evans at Radio 2 remains the most popular morning DJ, pulling in 8.5m listeners. His executive producer Helen Thomas salutes the power of her host. 'Chris Evans is quite simply the most creatively talented force of nature I have ever worked with,' she tells Ariel.

Start Quote

Chris Evans' enthusiasm and his passion and drive are unique ”

End Quote Helen Thomas Radio 2 Breakfast Producer

'His enthusiasm and his passion and drive are unique. He could sell sand to the Arabs and ice to the Eskimos. Sheer force of personality make people want to listen to him.'

He can even make mistakes and get away with it. 'If something goes wrong and a presenter fumbles over the mistake, that awkwardness spreads to the audience,' Thomas warns. 'Months ago in the programme Chris was talking about the behaviour of honeybees, but got his information completely muddled. He totally laughed his way out of it and it's become legend in our office. We're always having what we now call 'honeybee moments!'

Besides her presenter, Thomas points to the programme's appeal to everyone, whether they're seven or 70, and says that listeners lead the agenda. 'The other morning, for example, I heard Chris say, 'I was thinking of talking about Mo-vember, but would you rather talk about pumpkins?' The response was overwhelmingly for pumpkins, so that was the theme of the show.'

The audience measures itself against the programme's junctures, she believes. 'We are the conduit for our listeners' morning routines and habits. At 0645 there's Big Screen Belter, at 0730, Moira's Golden Oldie, at 0835 The Mystery Guest ... We get people calling us to say if they're not at a particular set of traffic lights by the sport or by Gobsmackers or by Pause for Thought, they know they're running late.'

Personal taste

Start Quote

Breakfast shows set the expectations for our brand and the overall quality of our product”

End Quote Sarah Drummond Managing Editor, Radio York

The 'getting Breakfast right' theory appears to be as relevant to local radio as it is to network.

'Breakfast shows set the expectations for our brand and the overall quality of our product,' says Sarah Drummond, managing editor at Radio York. 'Get these wrong and you send out a poor message about the whole radio station to the biggest audience of the day.'

Her counterpart at Radio Gloucestershire, Mark Hurrell, believes Breakfast is a programme that matters regardless of the day.

'It's the seven day mantra,' he says. 'Our listeners expect to hear the same sort of thing on weekdays and weekends, although the weekend programmes do have a different feel.'

In June last year, the Guardian invited readers to listen to and vote for their favourite UK radio breakfast shows. If nothing else, Battle for Breakfast as the feature was called, proved that who you wake up to is entirely personal.

'Nicky Campbell is very fair and authorative,' commented one panel member on the morning they listened to 5 Live. 'Nicky Campbell is obnoxious and rude,' said another.

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