Kevin Greening: Radio 1 breakfast DJ with Zoë Ball


Kevin Greening, broadcaster: born Bristol 30 December 1962; died London 29 December 2007.

Kevin Greening's advice to budding radio broadcasters was "learn from everyone, copy nobody, skip breakfast". This exemplifies the self-deprecating wit of the presenter best known for partnering Zoë Ball on the Radio 1 breakfast show from October 1997 to September 1998, steadying the ship after Mark Radcliffe and Marc "Lard" Riley's short-lived tenure, which followed Chris Evans's controversial departure early in 1997.

While at Radio 1, Greening also presented the weekend breakfast show and drivetime, and introduced the nation to the dubious delights of the Mike Flowers Pops easy-listening remake of Oasis's "Wonderwall" in 1995. A versatile, articulate broadcaster who never seemed to find his niche and was too often asked to downplay his intellect, Greening also broadcast on GLR, the BBC World Service, Radio 5 Live and 6 Music as well as the commercial stations Virgin, XFM, Heart, Jazz FM and Smooth Radio.

Born in Bristol in 1962, Greening discovered punk in his teens, though the first record he bought was Abba's "Fernando". "Six months later the Stranglers, XTC and Eddie and the Hot Rods changed my life," he said. "Of course, no one has written a sell-out West End musical based on the back catalogue of XTC, so who's to say I wasn't right about Abba?" He made light of the fact that he went to Cambridge by stating that he "scraped a place" at St Catharine's College.

After graduating with a BA in chemical engineering, he turned down a chance to go and work in industry. He had already broadcast on hospital radio in Bristol and student radio in Cambridge, and joined the BBC as a sound-mixer. "I was briefly a tape editor for door-stepping reporter Roger Cook. He hated me," recalled Greening, who was happy working behind the scenes as a producer at GLR and didn't see himself as on-air talent until pushed by the station manager Trevor Dann.

In 1993, Greening was part of the launch line-up of Virgin Radio but moved to Radio 1 the following year. "Quite a few of the old guard were still around and I was regarded with deep suspicion," he told Simon Garfield for The Nation's Favourite: the true adventures of radio one. Matthew Bannister, the Controller, helped by Dann and Andy Parfitt, set about reshaping Radio 1 and getting rid of the "Smashie and Nicey" generation of presenters. Greening hosted a weekend show and brought a tongue-in-cheek style to the network with the introduction of comedy sketches featuring irreverent characters like the hapless DJ Raymond Sinclair.

"At the beginning of 1997, I was firmly under the impression that my star was fading at Radio 1, and I was looking elsewhere," he admitted. "I started at weekend breakfast, was moved to weekend lunchtime, which was billed as a promotion, and then moved back to weekend breakfast, so make of that what you will. There were certainly no whispers going round about me being the next big thing."

Then, when Chris Evans tried to force Bannister's hand to let him have Friday morning off to concentrate on his Channel 4 television show TFI Friday, Greening replaced him at the 11th hour. Following Evans's departure, Radcliffe and Riley struggled and Greening occasionally deputised for them. The double act was due to return from holiday just after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, on 31 August, but, given the sensitive mood of the nation, Radio 1 management decided that Greening was a safer pair of hands. "The question on that Monday morning was: without any features, and mostly sombre instrumental music, how do you make it sound like a breakfast show?" he said. "I remember coming in very early on the Monday, and going through every station on the dial, really to find out what not to do."

Greening stayed in the breakfast slot and was paired with Ball, much to his surprise, since the two had never even met before and Ball had mostly worked in television rather than radio. They recorded three terrible pilots before the launch that October, which coincided with Evans's arrival at Virgin Radio in the same high-profile slot. "We were under great pressure to get it right. But I think management also knew that neither me or Zoe really needed to be doing this breakfast show," said Greening. "I had genuinely felt that, if the breakfast show was offered to me, I would refuse it because I loathe getting up at five in the morning. I never wanted my picture in the papers."

Ball and Greening graced the cover of the Radio Times and put back a quarter of a million listeners, but their partnership only lasted a year, until Parfitt took over as controller from Bannister in 1998 and further repositioned the station to target a younger listenership. Ball carried on as sole presenter, while Greening languished at the weekend. After his last show for the station in January 2000, he proved incredibly adaptable and equally at ease hosting a topical show when sitting in for Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live, or playing up-and-coming acts at the spikier XFM. He even survived the change in format from Jazz FM to Smooth Radio after joining three years ago.

Respected and admired by colleagues at every station he worked for, Greening had become something of an elder statesman in the radio industry and was a member of the panel judging the Sony Awards for the Radio Academy.

Pierre Perrone

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