Full Marks: Radcliffe & Lard
Radio breakfast shows used to be about "zoo radio". You'd have a "gang" or a "crew" or a "posse" or, a rarer beast, an "autonomous collective". They would usually shriek with laughter at the male DJ's vaguely humorous comments, say things such as, "We're all bonkers, we are", and tell jokes off-air then laugh on-air to annoy the listeners. This was an import from America and Australia, where zoo radio rules the airwaves, and it is slowly dying away. Fortunately.
These days, we have invented our own British breakfast show format. It involves two people - men, if you can get them, but a man- woman combo will do playing records, talking to guests and making self-deprecating comments. If it's not already called Two Bloke Radio, it should be. Radio 1's new breakfast-show duo, Mark Radcliffe and Lard, are two blokes; their national rival, Virgin 1215, has had two blokes for four years; and now the long wave pop station Atlantic 252 has announced its own two-bloke breakfast team.
Atlantic is second division stuff, I'm afford. It does not cover the whole of the UK, for one thing, and it is on long wave. Not a sexy waveband. Virgin Vs Radio 1, however, is a four-year-old war. Since Chris Evans left, with audiences for the breakfast show at almost 16.4m, Virgin has seen Radio 1's breakfast audience as easy pickings and has decided Russ and Jono, who have about 3m listeners, are the boys to do the job. They embark on a national tour in a few weeks' time and believe they are already pulling over hundreds of thousands of disenchanted Radio 1 listeners.
Mark and Lard, on the other hand, seem pretty chipper three weeks into the new show, which they broadcast from Manchester. They aren't content ("I don't do content, I'm a grumpy sod," says Radcliffe), but they think the show is settling down. The insulting letters have dried up, although Radcliffe thinks that could be because everyone who doesn't like them has switched off. "It's rather like moving house," he says. "You don't get the wallpaper right straight away, but once we get some nice tiles up on the ceiling we'll be right as rain."
He hasn't counted on Russ and Jono, though. So it's gloves off, round one, Russ Williams to begin. "It's highly original that Radio 1 chose to put blokes on together," he snipes. "Have they really run out of ideas? I think so. Good luck to them, whatever their names are. Radio 1 used to have such a line-up of talented disc jockeys; now they have these people who couldn't broadcast their way out of a paper bag."
Radcliffe is surprised. "He's claiming that Virgin invented two- blokes broadcasting? Well, I'm going to have to check my dates, but I've got a feeling Morecambe and Wise may have been broadcasting before Russ and Jono started. Anyway, me and Lard were on Radio 5, then Radio 1 in the evening before Russ and Jono started on Virgin. In fact, we're recycling exactly the same jokes from these two shows for the third time around."
Mention the fact that on Monday both teams left their respective playlists to put on Mott the Hoople's All the Young Dudes and Supergrass's Alright and the row is kicking off all over again. "What time did they put theirs out?" asks Williams. "They must have heard us play ours first, then put theirs on."
"Who played the tracks first? Us?" asks Radcliffe. "Blimey, it's like Watergate. There must be a lawsuit pending. First of all we steal the idea of having two blokes on air, then we steal the idea of playing Mott the Hoople. It's Mottgate. To be honest, I've never heard Russ and Jono. That's a bit like asking if I've heard Bournemouth's Ocean Sound station up here. The AM frequency does them no good - they only go out on FM in London - and most people north of Watford seem to choose between their local commercial station and the BBC."
Into the ring steps Matthew Wright, showbiz columnist for The Mirror and the voice of millions of listeners. "You could argue that it's a north-south divide sort of thing," he says. "Radcliffe is beaming down from the north, although as a Londoner born and bred I find him digestible and highly amusing. Russ and Jono are more conventional. I'd hate to choose between them. I think Radio 1 is expecting to lose a few listeners, but the station is losing listeners overall anyway."
So who will Wright write about? "Well, none of them lead the sort of showbiz, Soho life that Evans had," he says. "Radcliffe couldn't make the Brit awards because he was at a pub quiz in Bolton, and Jono's just had his second kid. I'll write about both of them, I suppose, but none of them will feature as regularly in the gossip columns as Evans did."
With Russ and Jono offering the more conventional, old-skool radio output to a 25- to 35-year-old audience, and Mark and Lard aiming for teens, kids and students, simple maths dictates that Virgin should have a larger constituency to draw from, despite the on-air innovation that Radio 1 is so proud of.
Evans was already shedding breakfast listeners with his more outrageous sexism, and Mark and Lard have some ground to catch up. Their show does seem to be the stuff of slow-building cult status, however.
If you want to make up your mind as to which breakfast wall- paper you prefer, the choice appears to be simple. According to Jono, his show is like a bunch of people eating out in a restaurant. According to Radcliffe, his show is like two blokes chatting in a pub.
So when it comes to Blokes at Breakfast, the choice is booze or booze. It just depends whether you want something to eat with it.
The Battle For Breakfast
Copyright © 1997 The Sunday Times
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