Taking DJs Off The Air

In the UK, last week, two DJs were informed that they would be taken off-air before they had planned to be.

Ken Bruce, who is off to Greatest Hits Radio, had planned to leave Radio 2 when his contract officially finished, at the end of March, and then appear on his new station after the weekend on April 3rd.

Steve Allen, who had been on LBC pretty much for 44 years, tweeted that his contract was up ‘shortly’ but that ‘following discussions’ he’s stepping down immediately. Announced, in similar words, on Friday at 2.15pm by LBC, it meant that he wouldn’t be having a last show.

For Ken, 15 minutes before the LBC announcement, Radio 2 announced that Vernon Kay was to replace him, starting in May and that Gary Davies will cover the show in the meantime. They also said that Ken ‘has decided’ his last show is this coming Friday, March 3rd.

His tweet suggests that the decision wasn’t really his:

Choreographing the departure of a very public face is hard on everyone – the talent, the station and the listeners. It doesn’t help that everyone’s motivations aren’t particularly aligned. Often talent doesn’t want to go and is angry, sometimes if stations are surprised by a departure they’re desperate to keep people on board whilst they race to make a decision.

The big issue for stations is the DLT factor (taken from David Lloyd’s Radio Moments Clips) where he resigned on-air and gave the station a kick-in:

The quote: Changes are being made here that go against my principles and I just cannot agree with them.

DLT’s view, later: Am I sorry I left? No. Am I sorry I did it on air? No, not at all. I would do exactly the same thing over again.

Radio stations try to project an image so having one of your DJs slag you off isn’t exactly enhancing. It also generates press coverage which covers the old – your exiting presenter or the historic nature of the station, rather than the one you want – the future, the positive. It drags you back, when you’re desperate to drive it forward.

A ‘DLT’ I don’t think is that good for the DJ. You’ve spent your life saying how much you love the radio station that you’re on (truthful or not) and suddenly you’ve done a 180 and now hate it. It’s hard not to sound like a disgruntled employee.

The fear of the DLT means that for many years, the default position for radio stations was that as soon as you find out you’re off, or you tell the station that you’re off, then you’re sadly shown the door.

I once remember sitting down with Johnny Vaughan talking about his exit from Capital. His take was that he knew it would come sometime and he was fascinated by the idea of it, and was almost excited for the moment of truth. Like he had done many times before, he was dispatched by Richard Park with a handshake and a smile.

Chris Moyles talked about the end of his time at Radio 1 on I’m A Celeb, where he was called in after the show by Controller Ben Cooper and told that it was going to be announced the show was ending in 20 minutes time on Newsbeat.

As the clip shows he managed to persuade Ben that he was the one to make the announcement and he’d do it the next day. Moyles tells the story that they were worried the news would leak, as he says “well, up to 60 seconds ago, I didn’t know about it”.

In the end this was allowed and Chris did a great goodbye the next morning, allowing him to tweak the truth slightly and reposition it as his choice. A white lie? Yes, but one that’s actually pretty generous of Chris as it gives the station ‘permission’ to then replace him, rather than anger the listeners. Obviously it also looks good for Chris too.

Radio 2’s situation with Ken is a little more unusual as it’s the talent saying they’re off, rather than the station giving the marching orders. It’s hard to know the time between Radio 2 finding out and the leaving announcement being made. The fact there was nearly a month before they announced a successor suggests they probably didn’t have that much time.

Radio 2 had faced a similar issue with Chris Evans’ departure. Announced in September, he stayed on air until Christmas, starting at Virgin Radio soon after. Chris didn’t talk a lot on-air about his new home, but listeners would be in no doubt he was off and still be available to listen to.

Radio stations normally have around 50% of their listeners tuning in to the breakfast show. The station you start your day with, is most likely the one you stay tuned to for the rest of the day. So, losing breakfast listeners is potentially detrimental to your whole station.

With the Chris Evans move, Virgin Radio didn’t make too much about Chris’ arrival during those last three months, but that’s not the same play that Greatest Hits Radio have made.

For many, Ken Bruce is the breakfast show on Radio 2 (with older listeners getting up later), it’s also the biggest show on the station. Ever since his announcement on-air, on-line and on social media (where a picture of Ken is even their accounts’ current avatar), GHR has gone hard on in spreading the word.

If Ken finished at Radio 2 on Friday and then started on GHR on Monday, it makes it very easy for listeners to switch across. With Radio 2 inserting an additional three weeks, it does give the chance for some listeners to calm a little, whilst quality broadcaster and safe pair of hands, Gary Davies takes over. His ongoing stint until May will mean the station stops them feeling startled by Vernon Kay, who for many might feel quite different to what went before. If they’d launched Vernon on the same day, the double shock of losing your favourite and finding a new person that’s of a different style (and era) would probably hasten a transfer. This way it gives them the best chance of making a transition. It also gives them a clear shot for Radio 2 to launch their new show.

Being wary of your talent and their destination isn’t something limited to the UK. In Australia, the biggest show was Kyle and Jackie O on 2DayFM and the Hit Network. They announced they were leaving in November 2013 after a contractual impasse, with one commentator discussing the talks, saying they “don’t think they have any other place to go”. Brilliantly wrong, 2Day threw a big party for them on their last day, but before the cake was finished a press release went out the same day announcing they were relaunching Mix as KIIS and becoming the new breakfast hosts. They started two months later and you can read about what happened behind the scenes here.

In the states, the biggest broadcast radio jock – Howard Stern – left linear radio for SiriusXM and talked a lot about it in his final weeks. So much so his old employer, CBS, sued him for “misappropriating millions of dollars” of radio airtime by promoting his move to Sirius satellite radio while he was still working for the network. They later settled.

So what’s the best way of dealing with someone leaving? It all depends on trust. The problem is that at the point of departure there’s usually a trust deficit! For both sides, there’s probably more that can be put into contracts about the end – both for stations and individuals – to stop the surprises and allow more dignified closures whilst everyone is in a good mood.

In the absence of that, it’s trying to understand each others motivations and point of view. Like the end of a long-running relationship, can everyone work to stay on good terms?


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