FEATURE: Dialing It Back: Is Chris Evans’ New Virgin Breakfast Show’s Approach to Advertising a Sign of Things to Come?




Dialing It Back


IMAGE CREDIT: @VirginRadioUK  

Is Chris Evans’ New Virgin Breakfast Show’s Approach to Advertising a Sign of Things to Come?


THERE were a lot of people tuning into Virgin Radio...


this morning to catch Chris Evans’ debut breakfast show. It is no surprise to report that it was a smooth and pretty reliable introduction! The man knows breakfast like the back of his hand and he worked on Virgin Radio – actually called Virgin Radio UK – before. There are some reviews coming through but they are all saying Evans’ new show is a very similar to his BBC Radio 2 show. The team are all there – including Vassos on sport – and it is pretty much a move straight from his old stall into the new one. There have been promotional billboards around and Evans posted some posts on social media promoting his new show – a cute interaction with his young son; his son ‘grilling’ him about the show and what it will include. There have been some positive reviews coming in already. The Times assessed his opening show thus:

He’s at the wheel of a much smaller car as well. Virgin Radio — part of the Wireless Group owned by News UK, the publisher of The Times — is a digital-only station with an audience of about 400,000. In terms of horsepower, it is a little like watching a Ford Capri take on a Formula 1 Ferrari. To Evans’s fans, though, that is all part of the fun. And given that Ball got off to such a frantically overheated start last week, she could be forgiven for casting anxious glances in the rear-view mirror.

First impressions suggest that it is the ginger one who will be setting the pace. If you are allergic to his brand of chatter, you won’t be converted, but there must be an awful lot of Radio 2 listeners who find Ball’s style so uneven that they will be working out how to retune their radios”.

The fact that the first song he played on his show was not a studio recording set the tone – he invited Richard Ashcroft into the studio to play. Ashcroft stuck around and he and Evans chatted about music. It was an interesting beginning to his new breakfast tenure and there are, as I shall explore, new elements that interested me. Evans’ strong suit is experience and slickness: some are saying Zoë Ball’s first week on the new BBC Radio 2 breakfast slot was a bit rushed and frantic. It will take a while for the show to form and have its own voice but, at the moment, it is quite an exciting and fast-paced show. Many might found that a bit much in the mornings which, of course, means Evans can scoop up some of those deserters. Whilst the presenting and delivery was great and Evans’ reliably warm and witty voice seemed settled and natural at Virgin, the music itself had more in common with other London radio stations. I feel the largely ‘white’ acts played do not add the diversity of BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music; there is a leaning on Indie, Rock and Pop and, at times, the homogenised tone starts to drag. I guess Virgin Radio UK have their own ethos and sound so one cannot deviate too much from the expected.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Zoë Ball took over from Chris Evans on the breakfast slot on BBC Radio 2/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is no way I will be abandoning BBC Radio 6 Music and going to Virgin in the mornings but I am pleased Chris Evans is still on radio and back at a station he knows very well. I am not sure how long he will remain where he is but it seems like his breakfast show is off to a flyer! I know BBC Radio 2 will get more listeners – and Ball will do brilliantly and bring in new listeners – but there are some interesting dynamics to Evans’ show. I do not know about you but the reason I came to the BBC for my radio fix was because of the incessant and, let’s face it, irritating adverts we are used to on commercial stations! God knows why I used to listen to Absolute Radio but I did. Not only is the music even more narrow and predictable than at Virgin – men in Rock bands and, what seems like, the same songs repeated each day- but you are bombarded with horrible adverts. I know radio stations need them for revenue and cannot rely on the license fee like the BBC. The bonus of the BBC is that they can stick with the music and, aside from the odd self-promotional trailer, there are no unwanted interruptions and annoyances. I think a lot of radio stations are too reliant on adverts and they can get very grating. Most stations do have the policy of using advertising but I, for one, find it a bit too much.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @fancycrave

It is great that Chris Evans’ breakfast show is free from adverts but, in exchange, he promotes shows on Sky (there are a few mentions about Sky away from the interviews ) – they are sponsoring his show. The BBC talked about that and guests that appeared this morning:

Other guests appearing on Evans's first Virgin show included actors Fay Ripley and Paul Whitehouse.

In what could be a sign of things to come, comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett were also on to promote their Sky One show.

Sky are sponsoring Evans's show, which means it will not feature adverts - a first for a commercial radio breakfast show”.

Some might say that this is swapping one annoying thing for another but, in some ways, it is replacing adverts with interviews. A lot of stations interview guests regarding their new film or T.V. show and Virgin are doing this in a way that means they can skip adverts. Whether you watch Sky or not, I guess these interviews are extended trailers. You can learn about shows and what is happening and choose to tune in or not. Evans can still advertise his breakfast show on social media but we do not have to endure all the adverts that we will not pay attention to. I guess advertising keeps radio alive but Evans’ show has shown an alternative. I wonder whether the idea could catch on and influence other radio stations.



From a listener’s perspective, it is much more pleasing and less disruptive hearing interviews regarding a Sky show than it is for the endless advert breaks we are used to. In the case of Virgin, Sky get exclusive rights and no other network is promoted. It does create a monopoly but I feel more listeners will come in. Not only do you get to avoid all the adverts and not have to deal with them but you might be pointed in the direction of a new show. In any case, it adds a conversational element to the show and you get well-known figures popping up. Evans ensured there was live music on his first breakfast show and now we have these Sky-related interviews coming in. I said I would not leave BBC Radio 6 Music but I know Virgin will get a lot of people in just because of this nice touch. Many hate having to hear adverts and that can damage a radio station. The fact here is a show that does not shove them down your throat is a good thing. I am curious whether there is a way to translate this to other stations. Maybe it would not be possible for a T.V. channel to sponsor a show in the same way but what about record labels or bigger artists? I do feel there is a chance to move away from the adverts and offer a more pleasing alternative.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

It would not be too much of a stretch to think another T.V. station could sponsor a show/station and, rather than have them pushing their name endlessly, you would get these interviews peppered throughout. Maybe there would be audio adverts that, whilst still adverts, at least are more tolerable and pleasing than the usual fare. I know having a record label sponsoring a show would seem a bit odd considering artists can be interviewed for free but I think there are other ways we can approach radio and advertising. Sponsorship brings in good money and there are opportunities in the music industry to benefit. Maybe a streaming service or technology company could offer sponsorship money in exchange for some spots on a station. As I said, T.V. channels might be able to do this and, at the very least, we would have a new type of radio station. If a giant like Apple or Spotify were to offer sponsorship then their platform could be promoted – either through bespoke commercials or interviews – but it would also be a good way of bringing playlists and new music to the listeners. I do think radio should be subsidised and adverts are a quick and common way of doing that – are we all getting a bit fed up of them?! Think about the T.V. and how many of stick around for the adverts between shows.


PHOTO CREDIT: @f7photo  

One has to ask how much custom and new business is being generated by these companies. I think there is a definite market out there and there are a lot of T.V. and radio shows that are sponsored by companies. I do think this is a good way of transitioning from the advert-heavy sound of radio today and a less abrasive approach. Many will point out that, regardless, this is advertising or there is branding at play. It is impossible to completely dispense with promotion and sponsorship – unless you are the BBC! – and money need to come from somewhere. I would not mind seeing a record label, tech company or brand like Sky getting their products boosted if it was done tastefully. In Chris Evans’ case, he is on board but it is not like he is name-checking Sky all of the time and turning into a corporate shill. Instead, we have these shows being promoted and, whilst Sky is mentioned, it is more about the guests being interviewed. I like this approach and feel a lot of radio stations could benefit. It would be hard to roll out straight away but one of the reasons why I listen to the BBC is that absence of adverts. I know a lot of other people are with them for the same reason and, actually, many are flocking from otherwise-good stations because they get annoyed by adverts.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Evans arrives at the Virgin Radio studios before his debut show/PHOTO CREDIT: PA

It is something to think about I definitely think it would attract more people to the radio in general. As for the rest of Chris Evans’ debut breakfast show on Virgin; it was a blend of new features – Gobsmackers, Golden Oldie and Big Screen Belters (where listeners pick a song from a film soundtrack) - and familiar music. Whereas BBC Radio 6 Music plays from the cooler side of the dial, Virgin are more about the well-known hits and, yes, it is a little homogenous. That is the way the station operates so it would be futile urging them to broaden their playlists. Evans has a new dog it seems and no longer has a Smartphone. He has said (many times) there is no rivalry with Zoë Ball and it seems like all the new breakfast shows are out there and settling in. I wish Evans a lot of luck and I know he has the experience and confidence to make a real success of his time at Virgin. I keeping thinking about that no-adverts policy and it is definitely worth exploring. Radio needs to be funded and supported but are adverts the only option? I do think stations can follow the example of Virgin/Sky and come up with some sort of partnership. It means the listener gets to avoid adverts for insurance companies and comparison websites and, in return, they might be switched on to a new T.V. show, product or album. There is room for change and discussion and I think, in an odd way, Chris Evans’ breakfast show...

IS pretty pioneering!