It just eats you up for breakfast

RADIO: So farewell, Mark and Lard; good morning, Zoe Ball. David Runciman wishes her luck in Radio One's toughest slot

This week marks yet another changing of the guard at Radio One. But once upon a time, the station's career patterns were rather more predictable. A disc jockey would arrive from some local or pirate radio station where he (it was always a he) had made a name for himself, and would promptly be given one of the graveyard shifts (late-night weekdays, early-morning weekends). Then, if he managed to hold on to enough of the insomniacs and agoraphobics who made up his audience, he would finally arrive at the breakfast show. There, he would preside in glory for a few years before getting the push ("stepping down to concentrate on TV projects"), so beginning the long slide back down through the schedules and out again into the bleak world of local radio from whence he came. This is what happened to Tony Blackburn, Dave Lee Travis, Mike Read, Mike Smith and Bruno Brookes.

But it doesn't work like that any more, and it is thanks to two people in particular that everything changed. The first is Steve Wright, who made the familiar leap from local to national radio in the early Eighties, and rapidly rose through the R1 hierarchy until he reached the afternoon slot. But there he stopped, not because he had reached the ends of his abilities (from the off it was clear he was the most inventive DJ on the station since Kenny Everett) but because he was happy where he was. For the best part of a decade, Steve Wright in the Afternoon was R1's most recognisable and most successful show. Yet because it was not in the flagship slot at breakfast, drawing in listeners for the rest of the day, it gave the station a curious, lopsided feel.

Eventually, after many years of trying, Wright's boss persuaded him in 1994 to move to breakfast-time. But by then it was too late. Wright's once radical "zoo" format had become tired, and he only lasted six months before going off in time-honoured fashion to pursue his ambitions on TV. As is traditional (Everett and Noel Edmonds are the glowing exceptions here) his television career quickly stalled, but Wright has not followed the usual, parallel path into radio obscurity. He is now on Radio Two, where his massively popular weekend shows have helped to make the station the most listened-to in Britain, ahead of the previous and seemingly unchallengeable holders of that accolade, R1.

The second person to shake up R1's comfy and rather complacent career structure never appeared on the station at all. Her name is Kara Noble, and during the period that Steve Wright was changing the face of afternoon radio, she was helping Chris Tarrant to revolutionise breakfast broadcasting on London's Capital Radio. Initially there to read weather and traffic reports, Noble gradually became part of one of the most successful double acts on British radio, and she was able to give Capital two things that R1 lacked. First, a familiar woman's voice in the mornings, which amazing as it now seems, was a complete novelty. And second, as both a foil for Tarrant's jokes and a pinprick for his ballooning ego, she introduced to Britain something of the sound and style of the best of American radio, as exemplified by Howard Stern and his sidekick Robin Quivers, recently seen playing themselves on screen in Stern's Private Parts. Before Noble, it was considered sufficient for a British breakfast jock to appear on air accompanied by nothing more than his trademark gimmick - Tony Blackburn and his double entendres, Noel Edmonds and his ghastly prank phonecalls, Mike Read and his guitar. After Noble, it was clear that R1's DJs were going to need livelier company.

Kara Noble now co-hosts her own award-winning breakfast show on the easy- listening Heart FM, one of the many stations to have sprung up since the Eighties, when R1 was able to do more or less what it liked and still enjoy a captive weekly audience of more than 20 million. As competition has grown and the listening figures have fallen, so the station has had to carve out a distinctive new identity for itself at the indie end of the market. But it has never managed to solve the early-morning headache Wright and Noble created for it. Many permutations have been tried, but in their different ways they have all failed.

Initially, the answer seemed to be to copy Capital by pairing Simon Mayo with the chirpy Sybil Ruscoe (now of Radio Five Live), which though it worked reasonably well for a while, was too much like a pale imitation of the real thing. Then there was the abortive stint by Steve Wright, and after him Mark Goodier with an even feebler "zoo" format. And then came the station's supposed saviour, Chris Evans.

Evans's arrival marked a new tactic in the battle for the breakfast audience, with R1 using its name and kudos to poach stars from television beyond the reach of almost all its competitors. But although Evans got listening figures to go up, his boss, Matthew Bannister, soon discovered that the bigger the star, the harder it was to get him to do what you wanted. So R1 held on to its audience for a while, but it couldn't hold on to Evans, who left when his request to take Fridays off was turned down. Evans is now taking over the breakfast showon Virgin Radio (where he'll have Fridays off). His replacements on R1, meanwhile, the late- night specialists Mark Radcliffe and Mark Riley, have had to go because they couldn't hold on to Evans's audience.

This week, they are replaced by Kevin Greening and Zoe Ball. With the number of listeners now below 10 million for the first time and still falling, these two may represent R1's last throw of the dice. However, there are signs that the station may finally have found the answer to its breakfast nightmare. Greening is an old-fashioned disc jockey who has come up the old-fashioned way from local radio, and through the ranks at R1. He is probably the best, and certainly the sharpest presenter the station now has.

Meanwhile, Zoe Ball represents the station's demographic dream, simultaneously the queen of children's TV and a prize pin-up in the new men's magazines. Her recruitment continues Matthew Bannister's rather curious policy of reversing the old adage about "a great face for radio" by taking people who look the part on TV and sticking them behind a microphone. It didn't work for Emma Freud or Dale Winton or Lisa I'Anson. But Bannister may have learned his lesson. Zoe Ball is not being expected to do it by herself. She is the name, but it will be Greening's show, and in his capable hands she might just get the chance to shine.

Breakfast radio is a ruthless medium. The competition is fierce; and though the listeners are bleary, they are also raw and easily put off. The presenters are liable to be raw at that time of the morning too, and with a minimum of two hours of airtime to fill, there is nowhere to hide. Chris Evans couldn't conceal the petulance that has since become his trademark, while Mark and Lard simply couldn't conceal how much they hated getting up in the morning. But Greening is breezily professional and Ball is professionally breezy. The secret of breakfast radio is to find the best presenters and fit them to the best format. R1 have sometimes had one and sometimes the other. This time they must be desperately hoping that they have got both.

Zoe Ball and Kevin Greening present their first breakfast show on R1, tomorrow, 7-9am. Chris Evans will be on Virgin from tomorrow, 7-10am.

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album