I've always thought Chris Evans to be a little batty, and his move to Virgin might underline that, but moves like this make our industry so very interesting. He's always surprising us, one of life's risk takers, backing himself with talent and on that point alone, he’s a winner. People like Chris appeal in big numbers because they see the world differently, showcasing life in an interesting way, mixing 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 very 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 also fantastic news for Virgin, 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 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, 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 win the game without investing in further talent going forward. Whatever they are paying Chris to jump will be small beer in real terms of where the station might end up. I would 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, the question is, by how much?
For Radio 2, this will be a big test. Make no mistake, this is a station packed with talent in every department, not just on-air, but on each floor and 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 between then and now is that if you asked a room full of producers some years back if Evans was the right person to replace Wogan, the vast majority would agree. Ask who is best to replace Evans now, and there would be a big debate. Any hire will split the ranks because if you put together a list of the best music breakfast presenters in the UK right now, it is far from clear 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, nothing personal, just business. I’m not sure R2 can do that. Imagine the uproar from paying him to stay in bed!
The new presenter has to get his or her feet under the table and establish a bond with listeners before Chris launches as a competitor. 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 until December is downright dangerous. Good for him, I’m not sure good for The BBC.
Radio 2 will be tempted to put a female on. That will be fine if they pick is the right one and for that, I go back to my exercise highlighted above. They have got to get this right and 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. 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
I wonder if Chris has got Fridays off?