Mark and Lard: the latest weapons in the ratings war

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BBC Radio 1's flagship breakfast show almost got out of the wrong side of the bed yesterday, as its new presenters took over and began what looks like being a long battle to stem a sharp fall in ratings that pre- dates the departure of Chris Evans.

Broadcasting from Manchester, Mark Radcliffe and his sidekick, Lard, nervously opened the programme by admitting: "Normally, if you don't like the show we can say `Sorry, don't worry, there will be someone else along in a week, but we're here for a year, so sorry about that'."

Radio1 was braced for a drop in popularity following the acrimonious exit of Evans, after the station's controller, Matthew Bannister, refused to let the presenter cut his working week from five to four days.

The timing could not have been worse then, when new figures placed Radio 2 ahead in the ratings war, for the first time in its 30-year history.

According to the independent audience research body Rajar, Radio 1 lost 569,000 listeners in the three months prior to Evans' departure - more than half of whom were captured by Radio 2.

Radcliffe, 38, acknowledged the difficult task facing him in replacing the increasingly infamous ginger-haired presenter: "We have to take care of the audience because the whole day on Radio 1 depends on us performing. Personally I feel a bit nervous about that."

During the broadcast, Lard unveiled a spoof "audience gauge", saying it showed a reading of 0.075 million. But his bosses will be hoping for a far better performance than that.

After a slow start, the DJs warmed to their task with some jokes and their trademark stream of consciousness ramblings. But they stuck largely to a prepared script, so there was none of the trashing of the tabloid press for which Evans's spontaneous performances became synonymous. As a well-known fan of independent music, Radcliffe was also forced to radically change his playlist to fit in with the mainstream appetites of early-morning listeners.

The programme steadily improved in its second half with surprise appearances from the Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker, the former Marillion star Fish, the poet John Hegley and an ironic quiz, "Bird or Bloke".

In the handover to Simon Mayo, Radcliffe was told he was now Britain's biggest entertainer. The Mancunian replied: "Les Dennis will be sick when he hears that."

Radcliffe's first job was as a "junior assistant dogsbody producer" with Piccadilly Radio, in Manchester. He later became head of music, making him Chris Evans' boss.

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