Mike Harding, the musician who has been voice of folk music on Radio 2 for 15 years, has been sacked by the station with a single phone call.
Harding, 67, who started gigging as a folk musician in the 60s and scored an unlikely chart hit with The Rochdale Cowboy, hosts a weekly show and fronts the BBC’s annual folk awards.
He will be replaced by presenter Mark Radcliffe on the show, which is broadcast at 7pm each Wednesday.
Folk music’s traditional “beards and real ale” image has been overhauled in recent years, following the crossover success of Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. Radcliffe is expected to broadcast a mixture of contemporary folk and more traditional artists.
Harding said his departure came as a shock. “Basically I had a phone call from the Controller (Bob Shennan) simply telling me I was sacked,” the broadcaster told The Independent.
He added: “No (future) plans were mentioned. No reason given for dumping me other than they wanted to ‘make it more live’. I didn’t know I was dead.”
Harding has played his role in the current folk revival, building the audience for his weekly show from 70,000 listeners to 860,000. But he said that in his 15 years at the station, the news that he had been axed “was the only phone call I ever got” from his bosses.
Bob Shennan said: “I’d like to thank Mike Harding, who has spent 15 years at the top of his game, delighting fans with his expertise and rooting out the very best folk music.
“On his watch, folk has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity and Mike has been key in supporting the genre and introducing Radio 2 listeners to a broad range of new artists. We very much hope to work with him again in the future.”
Radcliffe, said he was “steeped in folk” and would be “thrilled and honoured” to take over the show. He added: “I am also well aware of how loved and cherished Mike Harding is and it is daunting to be following in his footsteps. He is a friend and someone I respect enormously and I really want to pay tribute to the sterling job he’s done on the Folk Show for so long. Thanks Mike, from all of us.”
Harding, who incorporated stand-up comedy into his music act, fronted his own BBC television series and has written several books, as well as writing music for the cartoon hits DangerMouse and Count Duckula.
Radcliffe already fronts his Music Club on Tuesday nights and hosts a weekday afternoon show with Stuart Maconie on Radio 6 Music.
The BBC said it was expanding its commitment to folk music and the change was designed to broaden the audience for a thriving genre. Sources said Harding had been offered a major series to present in 2013.