As Wogan goes, can Evans appease the Old Gits?

The news that Britain’s favourite broadcaster, Terry Wogan, is to retire from Radio 2 and be replaced on the flagship breakfast show by Chris Evans, who is 28 years his junior, has prompted claims that the BBC is neglecting a major part of its audience.

Evans, 43, is a former host of the BBC Radio 1 breakfast show where he successfully entertained listeners with his “zoo” style of studio-based sidekicks and suggestively-titled features such as “Honk Your Horn” and “In Bed with Your Girlfriend”.

Wogan, 71, began hosting the Radio 2 breakfast show in 1972 and has amassed an audience of 7.93m, including his dedicated following of TOGs (“Terry’s Old Gits”). The changeover will take place early next year when Wogan will move to a new weekend slot.

The switch prompted claims today that Radio 2, which is required under its service remit to serve listeners of 35 and upwards, is ignoring its older audience.

The broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell, who was appointed by the government as a Voice of Older People, said: “As the younger people push the oldies off their perches there’s a sense that the target audience is getting younger. Who is catering for the TOGs? My heart sinks for the Terry fans who would like to have something in his tone – his lilting, comforting style – rather than what might be the more abrasive style of Chris Evans.”

The commercial radio sector also complained that its stations were being “squeezed” as Radio 1 and Radio 2 moved ever closer together, making it almost impossible for privately-run networks to deliver audiences in the 25-45 age range that advertisers often demand.

Andrew Harrison, chief executive of RadioCentre, the trade body for commercial radio groups in the UK, said: “The average age of the Radio 2 listener has been getting younger for the past decade with all the programming changes that have been made. Terry must deliver quite a lot of older listeners to Radio 2 and bring in someone 30 years younger is bound to bring the average age of the audience down further.”

He praised Wogan as a “national icon and wonderful broadcaster” and accepted that he would have to be replaced at some stage but questioned whether Evans was the appropriate replacement.

“It’s less than a decade ago that he was known as a Radio 1 disc jockey and host of late-night Friday television who was married to (actor) Billie Piper. It’s not a criticism of Chris Evans’s abilities which I think are pretty good, it’s more that it’s another indication that Radio 2 is chasing younger audiences.”

The row comes at a time when the service licence for Radio 2 is being reviewed by the BBC Trust, the body which oversees the corporation. RadioCentre has made a submission to the review, pointing out that the average age of a Radio 2 listener has fallen in the past decade from 53 to 50, in spite of the average age of the population in the over 35 sector having increased from 53 to 54 and being set to grow further.

Over the last ten years, the average age of Radio 2’s weekly daytime presenters has fallen from 55 (when Jimmy Young was still broadcasting) to 50 when Evans and his anticipated replacement, Simon Mayo of Radio 5 Live, join the line up. Radio 1 has recently come under fire for having an average listener age of 33, outside of its remit of serving 15-29 year olds.

Evans, who made his name as the host of the fast-moving Channel 4 television shows Big Breakfast, TFI Friday and Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, made a fortune from the sale of his Ginger Media Company and has a collection of six white Ferrari sports cars. He was brought to Radio 2 by previous controller Lesley Douglas, who also hired the comedian Russell Brand before he was sacked over the “Manuelgate” obscene phone call scandal. As host of the Radio 2 drive-time show Evans has been a great success, building an audience of 5m.