It was the best kept secret in radio broadcasting – Chris Moyles announced on air this morning that he was hanging up his headphones and leaving his “dream job” on the Radio 1 breakfast show after eight years.
“Motor-mouth Moyles” as he’s not so affectionately known by some of the tabloids, told his devoted listeners – currently 7.10 million according to the latest official RAJAR figures – that he and his team were saying goodbye in September.
Unusually, there was no hint of speculation in the press in recent days or weeks, Moyles hadn’t had one of his infamous rants which have caused headaches for the management of Radio 1 – and beyond – over the years and following on from the schedule change earlier this year, Moyles himself confirmed that he was contracted to Radio 1 until early 2014. Already the station’s longest serving breakfast show DJ, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted to host the programme for a decade. There was no reason to suspect he wouldn’t see that out to its natural conclusion.
This morning’s announcement, therefore, came as a shock to most. Although you can be sure in true BBC fashion, that much work has gone on behind the scenes ahead of today’s news. Damage limitation is essential for any broadcast company, especially the BBC. There will have been conversations, meetings and a party line agreed with the key protagonists.
The first hint of how the story would be managed came in the tone of the Moyles announcement – it’s the most “corporate” I’ve ever heard him sound. Yes, in some senses it was typical Moyles – dramatic and self absorbed. But his delivery was passive – not so typically Moyles. He’s made his name as a controversial, outspoken broadcaster. He’s ranted about his guests, his salary and other presenters. He isn’t someone I’d ever expect to go quietly, unless he really wanted to go – and I’d be surprised if he did. If he was pushed, I’m not sure he’ll remain in subservient mode until September.
Perhaps Moyles’ decision to take up Andrew Lloyd Webber’s offer to play King Herod in his touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar, had something to do with today’s announcement. That starts in September, which could have caused problems for Radio 1. The BBC has always moved mountains for its favoured presenters in order to keep them on air, even when they are involved in projects outside of the Corporation. And I’m sure they’d have done so for Moyles – if they wanted to keep him in the breakfast chair.
Maybe in accepting the role, Moyles was signalling that he was counting down the days on his breakfast show job, or perhaps the powers that be were less accommodating of his new venture than he expected and he’s decided focusing on a career beyond breakfast is where his priorities are now. I suspect the recent report by the BBC Trust which said that Radio 1 was still failing to attract young listeners also played a part in the timing of today’s announcement. Much of the station’s audience is still over 30 – which isn’t to the Trust’s liking.
Whatever the facts, love him or loathe him – and I’ve done both during his Radio 1 tenure – there is something unique and appealing about the maverick Moyles – as his loyal listeners will verify. He’s a 38-year-old presenting the most successful programme on a station aimed at 15 to 29 year olds. He’s broken the record for the longest programme on radio with his 52 hour broadcast which raised £2.4 million for Comic Relief. And he’s survived the kinds of controversies which would have resulted in most presenters being shown the door.
He’s succeeded where most others have failed in that he and his team have made a success of the zoo format of broadcasting which often degenerates into utter chaos if there isn’t an agreed hierarchy with a strong leader at the helm. Moyles has always been the top dog – and woe betide anyone who tried to get one over on him. That is one of the reasons why, if he was pushed, I expect he’ll find a way of telling us about it – sometime.
However, today’s announcement was an excellent example of a potentially damaging story being managed effectively. The timing of a schedule change on this scale is of paramount importance because radio listeners notoriously dislike change. If you look at the timeline of events today, and those from earlier this week, you’ll see that Radio 1 and more generally the BBC, managed this story as only they can.
Moyles said in his announcement that it was “all about me”. But it wasn’t about him for long. The social networks and message boards went into meltdown for a short time, but just hours after Moyles’ statement, Newsbeat revealed that Nick Grimshaw, currently of the 10pm to midnight show, was his replacement. So surprise number one was followed by shock number two – and with it the focus shifted from Moyles to Grimshaw, who happens to be on air in the daytime hours this week, sitting in for drivetime’s Greg James, (who is on holiday), and is also the man most people deemed was Moyles’ heir apparent.
James tweeted on Monday that he was on holiday for a fortnight. Nothing unusual about that. Except that he added: “What an exciting few months. Time to ponder, recharge and get on the beers, son. Back in a couple of weeks. See ya.” Might he have been pondering not getting the breakfast job? Today he tweeted his support of both Grimshaw and Moyles and underlined his delight at landing the drivetime job back in February. “I’m living out my dream and having the time of my life. Today isn’t about me.”
No, it isn’t. Today isn’t about the drivetime DJ who many thought should have got the breakfast job, or the breakfast show DJ who is giving it up. Today is about the surprise successor to the most coveted job in radio. Tomorrow may well be a different story …
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