Radio: They say that waking up is hard to do

After 18 years presenting the breakfast show Christ Tarrant has left Capital Radio with a yawning gap. Lucy Rouse reports

After 4,558 5am alarm calls, Chris Tarrant hosted his last Capital Radio breakfast show on Friday, bringing an 18-year era to an end. The show has been the top-rated breakfast radio programme in the all-important London market for years.

But what is it about superstar presenters that allows them to carry on broadcasting in the way Alistair Cooke did for BBC Radio 4? Cooke aired his last weekly Letter from America just a month before he died last week, aged 95. He'd been on air regularly for more than 50 years.

Is it something about the individual, whether it's Tarrant, Cooke or even Radio 2's Terry Wogan, who's still hosting the nation's most popular breakfast show after more than 30 years? Or is this longevity a quirk of the intimate medium of radio? Perhaps star status lies in the gift of the audience, who can take to a presenter such as Jimmy Young (28 years on air) to the point that only an exceptionally brave controller such as the then R2 chief Jim Moir can pull them off.

Tarrant has tried to leave Capital before. Rumours of his imminent departure dogged his last few years on air but, according to a source close to the DJ, Capital managers last year persuaded him to stay on for another 12 months and his contract was renewed for the last time.

The man whose career took off in 1974 when he hosted the madcap Saturday morning TV show Tiswas wants to do more TV presenting, although a new project, Tarrant's Travels, hasn't been commissioned by ITV. Sources suggest he earned around £1m a year from Capital, but this is considerably less than the £4m he earns a year from TV promotions and presenting, including his role as host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Despite Capital Radio courting Ant & Dec and Davina McCall to fill the slot, Tarrant will be succeeded by Johnny Vaughan who made his name on Channel 4's Big Breakfast. The similarities between the careers of Vaughan and Tarrant are striking. Breakfast TV aside, both they and Wogan have dodgy TV credits to their name - BBC2 sitcom 'Orrible and a chatshow for Vaughan, ITV's Man O Man for Tarrant and a thrice weekly BBC1 chatshow for Wogan.

Radio often provides a solid base for a presenter's career. "TV is very polarised, you're in or you're out," says Virgin Radio managing director John Pearson. "Wogan and Tarrant both had hits and misses on TV but both managed to go back to the bedrock of radio."

Although radio, particularly in the lucrative London market, has got more competitive, radio doesn't inhabit the same febrile atmosphere of TV so presenters can take longer to build audience loyalty. "I was at Capital when Tarrant started," says Pearson. He went on between 11am and 1pm and didn't work," . "It took two years of testing at lunchtime and breakfast before he got critical and ratings success."

Pearson reckons radio presenters have a place in the hearts and minds of listeners. "DJs become friends, because they're on for four hours a day. That's really powerful. It's more than a half an hour a week on telly will ever do for someone." But it takes a certain attitude to become a long-running success. "People like Wogan and Tarrant are rooted, they're not lost in showbiz," says Pearson.

The unspoken contrast is, of course, with Chris Evans who hosted Virgin's breakfast show before spectacularly falling out with the station's senior management and going on a drinking binge in June 2001. It ended in court, where Evans was branded a "petulant prima donna". He later agreed to pay the station he'd once owned £7m.

By contrast, Virgin mid-morning DJ Russ Williams, who in the early 1990s covered for Tarrant's 16 holiday weeks of the year, says Tarrant was always "delightful". "He would have a big fat Cuban cigar, even at that time in the morning, and would try to sneak Status Quo records on which, even at that time, were frowned upon," he recalls.

Williams reacted with good grace when his Virgin breakfast show was, as he put it, "unceremoniously replaced" with Chris Evan's zoo format in 1998. He decided to stay with Virgin, while his former co-star Jono Coleman left in high dudgeon.

Steve Orchard, operations director at GWR which owns Classic FM, says that while every broadcaster wants stars, veteran presenters can bring complications. "It can be difficult to attract new listeners because people know what you represent at that time of day and if they've decided it's not their cup of tea they don't come back," he says.

"Breakfast is the highest profile slot of the day. It's where we make our money," says Orchard. "The value of commercial airtime is based on the size of the audience and the peak is always breakfast. It's a Mount Everest of radio listening compared to a small foothill during drivetime from 4pm to 6.30pm."

Orchard says Capital must differentiate itself from Chrysalis's Heart, Emap's Kiss and Virgin which between them have driven Capital's share of London radio listening down from more than 10 per cent to 7 per cent over the past two years. "They've gone for top talent and Vaughan's a great name. But top talent has to have strong management or it can lose its way," says Orchard wisely.

Lucy Rouse is a former editor of 'Broadcast' magazine

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Administration Assistant / Office Assistant

£18 - 20k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An Administration Assistant / Office Assistan...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution