With Graham Norton defecting from Virgin, Radio 2 must improve its game

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Changes are underway at Radio 2 and one thing is clear: they have a battle to fight. The news, announced today, that Graham Norton (one of the station’s highest-grossing names) is heading to rival station Virgin is an important moment to “take the gloves off”. Norton follows in the footsteps of Chris Evans who defected the same at the end of 2018 and the BBC channel, arguably never recovered with Zoe Ball, Evans’ successor as host of Breakfast , seeing a significant drop in viewing figures.

So what can we do? A rumor circulated last week that Norton was leaving his Saturday lunchtime slot because he was upset that he was scheduled to play more music and cut the chat, which is, of course, the reason to be from Norton. While that now seems unlikely – Virgin Radio is known to be very generous with its checkbook, and there’s the fact that Evans publicly courted Norton to join the station on his show earlier this year – the rumor is. sounds with something described by the Pop of the Corporation. controller, Lorna Clarke during the controller advertisement for Radio 1, Radio 2, 1Xtra, 6 Music and Asian Network earlier this year. “As team players, they will help me shape the next era of BBC pop,” Clarke said in an internal memo, suggesting that she wanted Radio 2 to move away from its current offering. , which is a combination of mainstream music, a few more niche genres, and yes, a lot of talk – a balance that I think is currently achieving very well.

Making Radio 2 an older version of Radio 1 is a dangerous idea because it would ignore one of its main functions: to build a community of listeners, to make them feel that they are part of a club where they can chat on the school run or the weather or the holiday trip to Ikea. Think how Terry Wogan, with his matching collection of Togs (Terry’s old Geezers or Gals), was in his prime. This feeling of belonging cannot be summarily dismissed.

So with Norton, Radio 2 must seek to cherish its current roster of presenters and also become a bit shark-like by expanding beyond Broadcasting House. They need to preserve Ken Bruce and Liza Tarbuck (both of whom I know from letters to the Telegraph are highly regarded) and look to move underachieving Zoe Ball to another niche. As a replacement, Claudia Winkleman (an unusual mix of intelligence and warmth) would be ideal, although it seems unlikely that she would want to take it on.

When it comes to replacing Norton, there is a lot of love for Rylan Clark-Neal who already masters the art of celebrity interviewing. Yet he’s also a polarizing figure, seen a bit like ITV2 by some, somewhat tainted by his association with reality TV. A wiser choice would be Scott Mills, who is currently on Radio 5 Live, which seems less like natural territory to him than Radio 2. But if the station really wanted to bet on the big guns, it would have to poach Frank Skinner who on Absolute. has mastered the art of smart populism at a tee.


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