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Music and the Chris Evans' Breakfast Show

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Jeff Smith Jeff Smith | 08:55 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010


It must have been back in mid December 2009 that I started prepping up the first week of music for our new breakfast show, which launched on Monday January 11 2010.
Way before that Chris Evans and Helen Thomas, his producer, had been clear that every Monday they would be kicking the week off with two iconic Beatles tracks and they'd bring along the Gobsmackers daily from drive. Apart from that though, and with a few musical features in development, it was a blank canvas.

I had developed a strong plot for Terry Wogan's breakfast show and had worked with his producer Alan Boyd on a timeless and melodic mix of music that was still relevant for a multi-generational, yet modern Radio 2 audience, featuring classic artists such as Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley to newer voices such as Pixie Lott and Paloma Faith. I sensed, with a slight modification to allow for Chris' style, that this approach would also work for the new show.

Chris wanted big strong familiar songs, the musical hallmark of a great breakfast show and since Radio 2 is free to choose from over 60 years of popular music with the broadest range of styles and genres, that proved no problem.

Radio 2 listeners like their music to be relevant so you'll hear some of the best musical hits of the day too and quite a few records that you won't hear anywhere else; we really try to dig a bit deeper into an artist's repertoire. For instance you won't just hear I Only Want To Be With You by Dusty Springfield or Viva La Vida by Coldplay, you are equally likely to hear In The Middle of Nowhere or Don't Panic.

Chris, like Terry, loves brilliant music from all genres. For instance, after he attended the Radio 2 Folk Awards, he was so genuinely enthused by what he saw, he replayed two live tracks from the event into the next morning's show and pointed the audience towards the Mike Harding show later that evening. Chris now also plays a weekly record choice by David Jacobs, ensuring his millions of listeners are introduced to the magical gems played every week on David's Sunday night show.

From Helen's point of view, she tells me that she thinks it's been a really positive experience to work so closely together with the Head of Music and our talented music manager Michael Banbrook. An advantage of that relationship is the understanding of any network-wide concerns that the Breakfast show may help to address such as first plays of records or throwing support behind a new artist that Radio 2 is backing. For instance Chris and Helen both love new independently signed UK artist Rox who the station has supported since she first appeared in Radio 2 Recommends at the end of last year.

Of course the music plot has evolved as the show has bedded in, but Helen and I still meet regularly to review how things are going and that we're not straying too far from our original vision! One fantastic addition has been 'Moira's Golden Oldie', which she introduces just after the 730 news. The audience flood the show every day with suggestions from Bobby Vee to Vera Lynn, and it's good to know that we are introducing new 'old' tracks to some listeners, and entertaining other listeners with music that they have loved for many years.

We all feel very fortunate to be soundtracking so many people's morning routines and the team love nothing more than getting texts telling Chris about "jiving around so much to Glenn Miller in the shower' or 'The kids refusing to leave the house until you'd played The Candy Man this morning'.

So, we've kept it going the way it started, strong Radio 2 signature songs in key points in the show, plenty of pace and familiarity and enough surprises and distinctiveness to separate us musically from anything else on the radio at that time. After the recent phenomenal RAJAR figures, we're all pleased that people seem to like it!

Jeff Smith is the Head of Music for Radio 2 and 6 Music


  • Comment number 1.

    Jeff, there are some of us, either by choice or because the station is chosen where they work, who listen to Radio 2 throughout the weekday. Accepting that there is such a wide choice of music from which to choose what is played on the various non-speciality shows, would it be possible to reduce the frequency with which "A" list play list songs are played. Perhaps every second show, alternating each day, so, for example, if Chris Evans plays Rick Astley's new single on Monday morning, Ken Bruce doesn't play it until Tuesday morning. This would avoid the intense dislike caused by the seemingly omnipresent "The Flood" by Katie Melua and "Hey Soul Sister" by Train recently.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes, I agree with Ally Gory. Jeff is correct that the Radio 2 listener likes relevant music, and I think most like lots of different tunes from lots of different eras - so it's a shame we get the same songs over and over on a daily basis. Even the examples picked above ("In The Middle of Nowhere" and "Don't Panic") are hardly obscure under-played hidden gems. More variety please.

    (Oh, and bring back the Thursday Radcliffe & Maconie)

  • Comment number 3.

    #1 and #2 above. If you do like a more varied choice of music, and you've not already done so, give BBC 6 Music a try.

    Obviously you'll need control over what station you're listening to, and you'll also need access by DAB or freeview/cable/iPlayer, but it's well worth it.

  • Comment number 4.

    Graham, I do listen to 6Music (though not as much as I used to) and it's good but I find it too 'bleepy' to have on while I'm working.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thanks Graham, I also listen to 6 Music, though I tend to switch over to Ken Bruce at 10am, when Shaun W Keaveny's show finishes. I know this particular blog is about Chris Evans' show, but assume it is fair to apply similar selection criteria to others.

  • Comment number 6.

    The challenge for any producer of a Radio 2 show is “how do you keep the content painfully safe but interesting?” It’s a particularly difficult challenge given that virtually every commercial breakfast show follows the same news, travel news, light music, big personality and inane interactions with the audience combination. With the new Nick Curly show we’re completely broken the mould by having a ‘very big’ personality which has allowed us to keep every other aspect the same.

    Another challenge is “What music do we play to an audience that actually has no interest in music?” Luckily the Radio 2 playlist fits the bill perfectly. But we don’t just play really obvious artists like Elvis, Coldplay or Cliff Richard, we also introduce new forgettable acts that are safe enough not to be noticed while people are driving to work or eating their toast, acts like La Rouge, Florence and The Mechanics and Palindrome Hannah.

    When Nick was planning his new show we met with him so he could tell us exactly how he wanted his show to sound. We believe in giving our highest paid stars complete creative freedom and this is a policy that has always worked well supplying our listeners with distinctive content. Who can forget Nathan Dross’s hilarious phone call to actor Tony Spanish or Nick’s own Radio Numb show back in the 90’s which won several disciplinary awards?

    Of course we never forget that this is a music show, so we should move the spotlight away from the extraordinary presenter and his brilliant controller. The music plot has remained constant since the first Radio 2’s breakfast show. We quite literally provide the soundtrack to our target audience of 57million Britons who find Radio Numb’s Chris Surly too obnoxious or can’t listen to quality music and presenters on 6Music because they either don’t have a DAB radio or they didn’t know it existed because they missed the one advert we ran for the station back in 2007.

    So, Radio 2 will continue to provide quality background noise to millions of people who aren’t particularly interested in music and we will use any opportunity to tell you what a fantastic job we’re doing. Meanwhile, we’ll keep our policy of axing innovative radio stations such as GLR, 6Music and Asian Network, simply because we have a habit of employing managers with no interest or background in the arts.

    Finally, you may have noticed the TV advert we’ve been running for the BBC Trust’s review of Radio Classics, Radio Bore and Severn Extra. Don’t forget to send loads of emails and letters to the Trust telling them what a good job we’re doing. Some of you have questioned why we didn’t advertise the 6Music Trust review in the same way, suggesting that this was a deliberate attempt to minimise positive feedback thus making it easy to justify axing a station that none of us particularly like because it doesn’t appeal to our chums in parliament and our business buddies at the golf club. In response to these cynics….oh look, it’s lunchtime.


  • Comment number 7.

    re: Audience figures.
    Can someone give me a ballpark figure for the number of (daily) listeners to The Steve Wright In The Afternoon show?


  • Comment number 8.

    Can someone please help me identify a record Chris played last week. I think it may have The Candy Man in the title.It 'kind of goes' - Who can make the grass grow, cover it with snow - O The Candy man can' he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.
    I run an Exercise class for the Over 60's and it would be perfect for one of my routines. Can't find it anywhere.


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