Wakey wakey, it's the breakfast club

Radio critic Boyd Hilton gets up at dawn to sift the corny from the cornflakes in the start-of-the-day radio shows
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XFM

XFM

Presenter: Christian O'Connell
Audience: 297,000

The thin line between the dated use of the ker-razy Chris Evans zoo-radio formula and a cosy, likeable team dynamic which doesn't alienate the listener is trod with delightful skill by Christian O'Connell. He bounces off his colleagues Chris, Brian and Roque (pronounced Rocky) and treats them as respected equals rather than subordinates. His celebrity interviews are charming without being crawly, and he avoids relying on emails and texts by having well-observed chats about topics that interest him. Features like the recent Rock School competition for young bands or the annual celeb Bounty Hunt keep the show fresh. It would be nice if he could go off Xfm's playlist more.

TALKSPORT

Presenters: Brazil & Beecroft
Audience: 908,000

Appropriately sponsored by Ford Transit, the TalkSport breakfast show truly is the voice of the working man of Britain. Specifically, cab-drivers. It consists of the former Scottish international footballer Alan Brazil holding forth in Daily Mail style on the big issues of the day, while his affable co-host Graham Beecroft chimes in every now and then. A particular highlight is the sound of Brazil going "urgh!" in the background while, for instance, the newsreader explains that Harold Shipman may have killed hundreds more. There are more clichés per minute than any other show on the radio, yet there's something eminently listenable about the whole thing. If you're a bloke.

VIRGIN RADIO

Presenters: Pete & Geoff
Audience: 1.1m

Pete Mitchell and Geoff Lloyd are down-to-earth Mancunians with a nice line in bloke-ish badinage. But on Virgin's flagship show they sound a bit eager to please, a tad overly wacky. Between the melodious dad-rock from classic guitar bands like Oasis, The Clash and REM are a number of not-especially amusing competitions and features, like a pointless TV guide blandly listing the evening's programmes as if no one had access to a newspaper or magazine with a TV page. Recently, Terry Wogan told me that cramming in too many ideas and slots and phone-ins and japes is pointless on a daily radio show. Pete and Geoff's programme is proof of that.

RADIO 1

Presenter: Chris Moyles
Audience: 7.68m

Weirdly, Chris Moyles and his crew come on air at about 6.55am, even though the listings say he starts at 7am. Fact, as Moyles himself would say. Chris is the very definition of a love-him-or-hate-him broadcaster. His bluff, brazenly egotistical style is a turn-off for many who would rather to listen to someone a tad less self-absorbed, but a quick straw poll among anyone under the age of 18 proves that his brand of enthusiastic rebelliousness is undoubtedly thrilling for his ever-increasing band of listeners. And even long-time Moyles doubters would have to admit that when he points out "we just played two decent songs in a row on Radio 1 - amazing!" he does have a point.

RADIO 2

Presenter: Terry Wogan
Audience: 8.05m

Eight million listeners can't be wrong. Terry crashes into the vocals of classic songs every 10 minutes, fades out legendary guitar solos, consistently talks over the all-important pips before the hourly news, and if you listen on digital you can even hear food swirling around his mouth as he masticates his way through his daily muffins. He's also completely reliant on his listeners' e-mails, yet Terry's quiet charm, idiosyncratic vocabulary and uniquely demented turn of phrase make the whole show a complete joy. Most surprising of all is the music - from the Mamas and the Papas to new country giants like Nanci Griffith. Wogan's playlist is the classiest and most unpredictable.

RADIO 3

Presenter: Penny Gore
Audience: 791,000

Not my radio station of choice. I thought I'd try listening to Radio 3 without interruption during my 20-minute walk to work. At first I missed the breathless enthusiasm of Five Live's duelling presenters and the jokey banter of the Xfm crew, but after five minutes of Ibert's Paris, played by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, I was hooked (the theme of the day was European cities). It helps that the presenter, Penny Gore, is fluently eloquent and informative without being patronising or cheesily chummy (try Classic FM for a complete contrast). Gore sounds like a human being, and her lilting tones interspersed with the soothing yet unpredictable music work well.

RADIO 4

Presenter: John Humphrys
Audience: 6.16m

It's heartening that the accent of the newsreader on the Today programme is every bit as posh as you think it ought to be. He also makes the presenters, like John Humphreys, sound strangely down-to-earth. The big question, since the Hutton Report, is whether the presenters have been cowed by criticisms of their programme. The answer seems to be no. A particular highlight was Humphreys giving new the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, a thorough going-over about his plans to deal with terrorist suspects. Clarke emerged as a slippery customer rather than a principled politician. But the show as a whole feels slow and earnest in comparison to Five Live.

RADIO 5 LIVE

Presenter: Shelagh Fogerty & Nicky Campbell
Audience: 2.18m

Despite, mystifyingly, having lost a few hundred-thousand listeners in the last six months, Five Live's current breakfast team of Shelagh Fogarty and Nicky Campbell is a brilliantly engaging combination. Campbell may be a brazen show-off and egotist, but, unusually for a man exhibiting such personality traits, he seems completely aware of just what a tosser he can be. Fogarty, meanwhile, acts as a suitably strict and wryly disapproving counter to Campbell's frequent yet entertaining excesses. It all adds up to great radio, making unappetising news stories seem exciting, and unpromising interviews with the likes of Kenzie from Big Brother feel peculiarly revealing.

BBC 6MUSIC

Presenter: Phill Jupitus
Audience: 238,000 (per week)

Listening to breakfast-show hosts day-in, day-out for a few weeks makes you appreciate one type of presenter more than any other: the ones who manage to just be themselves. It may sound like a pretty basic requirement, but more often than not the people whose job it is to keep us entertained in the mornings seem to feel they have to adopt some kind of self-consciously matey and/or comedic persona. But Phill Jupitus is just effortlessly and entertainingly himself, discussing stuff that delights and annoys him. His dispute with Xfm over who played the new Gorillaz single first is just one example of Phill's refusal to play by the rules. The music's great too.

CLASSIC FM

Presenter: Simon Bates
Audience: 3.1m

Listening to the outer reaches of morning radio is like going back in time to Radio 1 in its dark days of DLT ("the hairy cornflake") and his Smashie-and-Nicey-style chum Simon Bates, who has somehow ended up helming Classic FM's morning show. In between light popular orchestral tunes (including lots of lilting and lush film score segments - does the theme from a Harry Potter movie count as classical?), up pop the unmistakably smooth tones of Bates, who couldn't sound sincere if he was telling us about his love for his own children. He never says anything of much interest either. And whole half-hours go by when he's barely said anything at all.

CAPITAL FM

Presenter: Johnny Vaughan
Audience: 1.13m

Another London-based show, but in these days of the internet and digital TV, you can hear most of these stations across the country, and, anyway, Johnny Vaughan is a big name in a big, high-profile and rather risky role. When he took over from Chris Tarrant it seemed to me a complete revolution for Capital. Tarrant was always the housewives' favourite, chummy and jolly and nice. Vaughan is feisty and frisky, very much a bloke's geezer. Yet the daily radio version of Vaughan turns out to be a different creature - less frenetic and self-consciously edgy than his Big Breakfast persona. The music is banal chart rubbish mixed with predictable oldies.

MAGIC

Presenter: Graham Dene
Audience: 683,000 (London only)

Graham Dene hosts the breakfast programme on Magic, which promises to be the "perfect antidote if you're tired of DJ chatter and drivel every morning". Surely the real "perfect antidote" would be to have no DJ at all, a solution followed rather succesfully by such digital entities as Heat's own radio offshoot. It's true that Dene avoids speaking for long periods, but when he does pipe up after each bout of three tunes by such melodious giants as Kate Bush and Simon and Garfunkel, it is to deliver a dry and inoffensive link. Still, the music is the thing with Magic - and it's fantastic.

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