Heart, the flagship Chrysalis radio station in London, is to jettison the long-standing host of its breakfast show in favour of Jamie Theakston, in an attempt to revive its audience figures.
The company will spend up to £1m promoting Mr Theakston, 34, a former children's TV presenter and ex-Radio 1 DJ. Heart 106.2FM, which launched nearly 10 years ago and is aimed at women in their thirties, will take the fight for breakfast-time audiences to Capital Radio's 95.8FM - which installed a new morning host, Johnny Vaughan, last year. Heart also has Emap's Magic and SMG's Virgin Radio in its sights in the lucrative London market.
The retirement last year of Chris Tarrant, who hosted the market-leading breakfast show on Capital 95.8 for 20 years, kicked off a radio war in London, as rivals sensed the opportunity to steal listeners who had been loyal to Mr Tarrant. It is estimated that Capital spent £3m to £4m promoting Mr Vaughan last year.
Jono Coleman, the 46-year-old Australian who had hosted the all-important morning show on Heart for the past six years, will not have his contract renewed, Chrysalis said yesterday. He is to vacate the slot in the next few weeks.
Analysts at Numis Securities yesterday cut their 2005 profit forecast for Chrysalis from £8.5m to £7.5m. In a research note, Numis said: "Following three disappointing quarters' audience numbers in 2004, Chrysalis has taken decisive action to improve audiences.... The change in breakfast show presenter is a risk as well as an opportunity in our view."
Late in 2003, Heart briefly overtook Capital 95.8's market share overall - though not at breakfast - but it has been in retreat ever since. Last week, Heart was beaten into third place in London by Magic, in the overall figures for the last quarter of 2004. For the breakfast show, Heart recorded an audience of 748,000 for the last quarter of 2004, compared with more than 1 million at Capital 95.8.
Steve Parkinson, the managing director of Heart 106.2, said: "We're moving the station on to mirror our thirty-something market. Having a 34-year-old presenter can only be a good thing. Jamie is a good media all-rounder."