I've always thought Chris Evans to be a little batty, and this move to Virgin might underline that, but moves like this make our industry so bloody interesting. He's always surprising us, one of life's risk takers backing himself with his talent and on that, he is a winner. Of that, there is little doubt. People like Chris appeal to the public in big numbers because they see the world differently, showcasing it all in an interesting way, mixing their words and thoughts around that, in turn, make us want to follow them on their journey.
The news is probably the best jolt for the growth of digital radio since Howard Stern moved to Sirius all those years ago. Digital stations are just another platform with few looking at what frequency they are on, the emphasis is all about what's on. Flicking a switch to find people and content we like is normal.
This is fantastic news for Virgin and the team, and rather sad news for Radio 2. If you put up a list of the top 10 music-based breakfast presenters in Britain, Evans would rightly be up there but who would be on that same list? An exercise I often used when consulting radio stations was to ask them to name the best presenters in the UK, regardless of which station they were on and then ask themselves, how many they had in their camp? How many can you afford and with News International, they can afford whoever they want.
Virgin can't just rely on Evans to lead the Virgin brand without investing in further talent going forward. They have good people right now, few would argue they have great people and for Virgin to win with Evans leading the team, they have to invest across the lineup. I would expect them to do that. Whatever they are paying Chris to jump from R2 will be small in real terms of where the station might go. I would just see the cost of him as a marketing line for a few years. He appeals to a range of brands, they like him and will pay to be associated with all that he delivers so the revenue will come in.
For Radio 2, this will be the big, big test of their management and producers. Make no mistake, this is a station packed with talent in every department, not just on-air, but whoever they pick to replace him will have a tough job on their hands. The same was true when Evans replaced Wogan although the difference now is that if you asked a room of a dozen producers if Evans was the right person to replace Wogan at the time, the vast majority would agree. The person to replace Chris won't have that luxury of universal approval, today. Their hire will split the ranks because if you put together a list of the best music breakfast presenters in the UK right now, who would be at the top? For this very reason alone, it would be highly dangerous to allow Evans to work much longer on R2 as the more he does so, the more he will take people with him to Virgin. If it was me leading the station, he would be off by the end of the week because it is the sensible thing to do. That said, Im not sure R2 will, or can do that realistically. Imagine the uproar from paying him to stay in bed!
The new presenter leading Radio 2 has to get his or her feet under the table and establish a bond with listeners before Evans launches. They need to bed in properly at this time of the day and importantly, be surrounded by the right team, the right production and the right programming clock. Listeners don't like change (they say) but the amount of PR, press coverage, TV coverage and more the Evans hire will generate means that allowing him to continue on air on Radio 2 until December is downright dangerous. He's also going to be in the press, magazines, on television and on social media talking about his new show while presenting the current one. He may not be promoting it personally but everyone else will.
Radio 2 will be tempted politically to put a female on. That will be fine if the person they pick is the right one for the right show. For that, I go back to my exercise highlighted above. They have got to get this right although they have one big thing in their favour. A huge loyal audience. They won’t leave easily.
This is all good for the medium and brilliant for commercial and digital radio, especially. Radio 2 will continue as the juggernaut it is but equally, we all know that Chris is a winner. A likeable guy but disruptive, usually on purpose. The best always are but one thing is very true. The next big radio star is probably someone we've not heard from yet.
I wonder if Chris has got Fridays off?