Hype is winner in the battle for breakfast time

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The Independent Online
The battle of breakfast time radio between Zoe Ball and Chris Evans got under way yesterday.

Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, finds that the struggle of the airwaves came second to the battle for headlines.

To bastardise Disraeli: there are three types of hype - hype, damned hype and show business hype. When Chris Evans started his breakfast show on Virgin Radio yesterday and Zoe Ball and the established DJ Kevin Greening started their new show on Radio 1 it was difficult to separate the damned lies from the publicity stunts.

Round one in the publicity battle went to the BBC with a report that its radio chief Matthew Bannister had turned down a request from Chris Evans' agent two weeks ago for Evans to return to Radio 1.

Evans then made his own bid for headlines by claiming he had told Bannister to sack him so that Bannister could appear in control: "I had a breakfast meeting with Matthew Bannister. Matthew said he was having trouble fending off the press and pressure from the governors.

"I said, `Between you and I, the best thing you could do now is get rid of me, because I have delivered the audience, then you can show your authority by getting rid of me'."

Evans tried to pump controversy into his show by inviting William Hague, the Tory leader, on to the show to admit he is "a raving homosexual and proud of it" - while admitting that he knows Hague isn't gay, but saying it would be wonderful for ratings.

Evans also complained about having to work for three hours a day and celebrated the new sponsor for his show by drinking a can of beer at 8.08am; "If you can't get pissed on your own show, when can you get pissed?" he asked.

In a show that saw the increasingly self-referential Evans play only five songs in his first hour, the DJ also revealed that he had returned to radio to get more freebies: "The reason we came back to the radio is because we stopped getting things for free. We didn't realise how much we got for free since we came off." He and his team had had free car loans and scooters in their time at Radio 1 and he had a Bentley at the weekend.

Radio 1 was making its own bid to keep listeners - and make headlines - by interviewing two of the Spice Girls about how the England footballer David Beckham had flown to Turkey to be with his girlfriend, Victoria Adams, a member of the all-girl band. Such is the fare of the breakfast show.

Radio 1 did at least attempt to stick to music and had the Lightening Seeds' lead singer, Ian Broudie, in the studio to play the band's new single.

At a post-show press conference just after Chris Evans and Richard Branson had sprayed each other with champagne Evans asserted, without a trace of irony, that Zoe Ball had been hired by the BBC just to garner publicity. "It's not Zoe's show," he said. "It's Kevin's. They are using her as a massive publicity thing."

The reason for all the fuss is that almost half of all radio listening takes place between 7 and 9am each day when 34 million people tune in to a radio. Over 5 million people listen to Radio 1 while Virgin is heard by 1.8 million.

Mr Bannister said: "You have to get your breakfast show right because the millions you bring in then will likely stay with you for the rest of the day."

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