To say this is a coup for Virgin Radio would be a massive understatement. There is absolutely no reason for Evans to take a job on a digital-only station that’s currently only reaching around 400,000 listeners when his current show reaches nearly 10million. He’s already a rich man and scoops over £1million a year for the Radio 2 breakfast show. Talking to people at Radio 2 it seemed there was a worry that he was getting a bit bored (a recurring Evans trope) but there was no desire for him to leave.
On deciding to move, he would have had the pick of any radio station in the country. Especially as we approach a point where the big groups can network breakfast, there would have been no one to turn him down.
Chris, though, has always been a master of reinvention, grasping the media narrative and doing the unexpected. And surely there’s nothing more front page worthy than a seeking ‘return’ to Virgin Radio.
For younger readers, the ’90s and early ’00s saw a tsunami of stories as Chris abandoned the Radio 1 Breakfast show for not giving him Fridays off, decamped to Virgin Radio for a ten-week contract, stuck around by buying the radio station, parlayed that into a £225million sale to SMG, fell out with SMG, quit the show and was sued by them and pretty much lost all the money. Rehabilitated by Radio 2 he eventually took on the breakfast show, grew Wogan’s audience and helped the station get its highest ever ratings.
So returning to Virgin has a very much unfinished business feeling about it. The station itself was rebranded to Absolute Radio ten years ago, but the brand was re-licenced by the Wireless Group three years ago when they won the second national multiplex.
It’s ownership by News UK is probably central to Evans’s return. Chris’s tabloid heyday meant that I’m sure he’s always had a relationship with Rebecca and co. Additionally News UK’s ambitions in radio are aggressive. Currently trailing behind Global and Bauer in a far off third place and with very few stations of scale left to buy, a strategy to grow the national digital stations is the right one, and who best to achieve that than the biggest presenter in the country.
For Chris though, what a gamble, a challenge that is very Evans-esque. Can you take a, to many, unheard of radio station and push it to the top of the charts? In some ways there’s already been a dry-run of this with Chris Moyles helming the launch of Radio X. It’s been a success for Global, though a slower one than many at Leicester Square hoped and also one that only happened three years after he left Radio 1.
I’m sure Chris’s appearance on Virgin won’t be be taking that long.
This blog first appeared on Matt’s personal blog, mattdeegan.com, and can be read here