A solemn Travis, who has been with Radio 1 for 26 years, told his Sunday morning listeners why he was going: 'Changes are being made here which are against my principles and I just cannot agree with them.'
His dramatic spur-of-the-moment announcement took Radio 1's bosses by surprise but they will have shed no tears. Travis, who learnt his trade in Manchester clubs before joining Radio Caroline, the Sixties pirate station, may attract a weekend 'car-washing' audience that is the fourth biggest of any radio programme but, like fortysomething colleagues Simon Bates, Bob Harris and Adrian Juste, he has come to represent Radio 1's past.
DLT is likely to be the first of a clutch of presenters at Europe's most popular station who will soon find themselves being offered a move sideways (to the weekend), downwards (to the late night) or away (Radio 2 or the outer darkness of commercial radio). Theirs are the faces that conflict with the image of the new Radio 1, which Matthew Bannister, the incoming controller, will begin to forge on his return from holiday next week. Bannister takes over from Johnny Beerling, who, like Travis, had been at the station from launch, and likewise recently announced his departure.
It was an open secret that the time for a large-scale reshuffle was at hand at Radio 1. It was suggested that Travis was to be given the elbow, that Bates would be moved from his weekday mid-morning slot to DLT's weekend show and that Simon Mayo would take over from Bates.
Mr Bannister is a firm supporter of Mr Birt's changes at the corporation and helped to write Extending Choice, the Birtian manifesto for the future of the BBC. He is keen on what Birtian jargon identifies as 'speech-rich' programming. This is well-researched, authoritative, journalistic speech, of the kind exemplified by the station's Newsbeat operation. It is not the prattle of presenters such as Travis and Bates, as satirised by Harry Enfield's spoof Radio 1 jocks Smashey and Nicey.
Odd though it was to hear Travis's live resignation speech, it was perhaps odder that he announced that he was leaving the BBC altogether. A name as famous as his, with the loyalty it commands, would surely have earned some increased share of the audience for Radio 2. While Radio 1 says there have been 'months of discussions' with the bearded wonder over his future, it looks as though the corporation is not going to offer an alternative Radio 1 show or a Radio 2 post.
Travis refused yesterday to expand on his comments or to detail the changes at the BBC which go against his principles; but his outburst is hardly surprising if, after a quarter of a century's service, the corporation was offering him nothing at all.
If his departure leaves Radio 1 with one less problem, there are plenty more waiting. He said that, after 26 years, it is not the station
it was. Actually it is not even the station it was last year. According to last week's Radio Joint Audience Research findings, it has lost more than 2.5 per cent of its audience share in the past nine months. Richard Branson's Virgin 1215, with 3.2 million listeners a week, is just the latest attack: Atlantic 252 is taking 3.7 million, while in London Radio 1 has only an 11 per cent share of the audience.
The hairy monster will not be short of offers from Independent Local Radio's 'gold' or easy listening stations - Birmingham's BRMB is the hot tip - which will be able to outstrip his BBC salary, if not match its national audience. But, despite speculation, his future is apparently not at Virgin 1215. John Revell, the station's joint programme controller, said: 'We are not going to be a dumping ground for ex-Radio 1 jocks.' He predicted that others among what the London Evening Standard called the 'ageing swingers' of Radio 1 are going to be looking for jobs.
'I think they'll clear out a lot of the dead wood because they will want to pitch to a younger audience. Dave Lee Travis's show was hugely popular, so they must have decided his image no longer fits Radio 1.'
Mr Bannister will find it is easier to discard his station's old image than to hit on a viable alternative. The people he appoints to replace his ageing swingers will say more about the new BBC than their poignant acts of self-destruction.