Radio 2 could have lost two of its biggest stars to rival Virgin Radio if Chris Evans had got his way.
Simon Mayo, who quit his job as a host on Radio 2’s Drivetime show last year, has revealed Chris Evans offered him a job when he defected to the commercial station to present its Breakfast Show.
Simon announced he was leaving Radio 2 after 17 years in October after a shake-up saw Jo Whiley brought in to co-host Drivetime with him, a pairing that proved to be a flop with listeners.
The show was eventually cancelled, with Jo bagging herself a brand new evening show on Radio 2.
Last month it was announced that Simon would be helping to launch the new national classical radio station Scala Radio, presenting the mid-morning show.
In a new interview with Radio Times, Simon admits he endured “an awkward and stressful” last few months at Radio 2 before deciding to quit, which is when he received a call from Chris Evans offering him a job at Virgin.
He told the magazine: “He rang me and said, ‘Do you want to work here?’ I said, ‘I’m already spoken for.’ He said, ‘I’ve got an audience of 8.7 million.’ I said, ‘Where I’m going we haven’t got any listeners at all. We’re starting from zero!’”
Simon also gave his take on why Jo Whiley was brought in to co-host the Radio 2 Drivetime show, when he had given “Radio 2 the highest listening figures it ever had.”
After finding out via his agent about the imminent changes, Simon says he believes “there was genuine pressure from the top about improving the number of women in daytime”.
He adds: “I was concerned that they’d pluck a co-presenter out of a bag somewhere, and I said it needed to be Jo.
“I’ve known her for a long time, and our families had been on holiday together. Jo and I worked very hard to make that show as good as it could be.”
Despite their best efforts, regular listeners made their feelings known on social media with Jo admitting that the backlash she received was so bad that she sometimes didn’t want to leave her house.
When asked if it was harder for Jo than himself, Simon says: “It was difficult for both of us, but for different reasons.
“Jo got the stick online because she was taking the blame for the new format. It was totally unfair. Radio is very personal. It revolves around atmosphere and mood, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that we were asked to do things that we’d not intended to do.
“And it showed on air, and that inevitably makes work harder. No question. It was stressful. I went to the gym more often.”
The new issue of Radio Times is on sale now. www.radiotimes.com