There’s plenty to be depressed about at the moment if that’s your thing. Brexit. Trump. The ceaselessly astonishing willingness of ostensibly serious media organisations to go on providing Owen Jones with the necessary platforms from which to vomit into the world the sub-adolescent idiocy that slops about in his head. Even the glorious UK heatwave might be getting you down. Personally, I don’t mind any of it. Bring it on, all of it, sunshine and Owen included. As the great Dalai Lama himself pointed out: worrying about things won’t fix them, and if a problem can be fixed, then why fret? That said, there is something that is getting me down. A dread event I’ve known about for a while and have tried to ignore but that now approaches all too fast. On August 9, Nick Grimshaw will finish a six year stint presenting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Frankly, I’m taking it hard.
Not since the mid-90s when Chris Evans was in his professional prime has Radio 1 had such a gifted presenter. Consistently and effortlessly hilarious, Grimmy, as the 33-year-old from Oldham is known, has the happy knack of being able to fill a daily three-and-a-half-hour show without ever wittering or being dull. Although pretty much everything he says on air is irreverent – which is the show’s entire premise – he manages still to be compelling. Not in a white-knuckle-what’s-he-going-to-say-next kind of way, but rather because his perspective on everyday life, from the mundane to the rarefied, is endlessly fresh and therefore worth hearing. (‘What actually is the Magic Circle?’ he asked the other day, perplexed by mention of the supposedly ancient and secretive institution. ‘Is it like Soho House for wizards?’).
Listening to him, you find yourself acting out the clichés of great radio: remaining in the car or not getting into the shower until he’s finished talking and put on a song. There isn’t another presenter on the Radio 1 roster for whom you could say the same. By comparison to Grimshaw, all of them to a greater or lesser degree seem vapid – unable to do anything but chunter away mindlessly all the live long day. Listening to him on the way into work or on the school run these last few years has been a sustained and genuine pleasure.
Of course, all this begs the question: if he’s so great, why is his stint coming to an end? It’s not a straightforward question to answer. He says he’s pleased to be giving up the early mornings – ‘I’ve been jet lagged for six years’ – but it seems he’s not leaving the show entirely of his own volition. He’s being swapped, in fact, with the considerably less talented Greg James, who until now has presented the late afternoon drive time show.
The first factor that seems to have forced the move is Grimshaw’s audience figures, which, taken at face value, indicate he has lost a sizeable portion of the show’s listenership since taking it over from the eternally joyless Chris Moyles in 2012. However, based purely on my own enjoyment of his show, I would suggest those figures are deeply suspect. Rajar (Radio Joint Audience Research), the company that compiles them, says it does so through the ‘placement of diaries across 50 weeks of the year… in which respondents record their live radio listening for one week.’
It adds: ‘The RAJAR listening survey has the advantage of not being reliant on specific hardware, and as the methodology is based on an adult’s active recording of what goes into the ears, this approach has been impervious to the development of new listening devices and platforms.’ Hmmm. Who are these teenagers filling out listening diaries? Has anyone ever met one? In this age of digital radio and internet live streaming, written diaries seem a wildly imprecise and anachronistic way to gauge audience size.
I could, of course, be wrong – my fellow radio listeners may have found someone better to listen to in the mornings – but I don’t think I am. Even if the figures are correct, are they all that important? The BBC is not meant to chase ratings in the same way its commercial rivals are compelled to. In my view, the high quality of Grimshaw’s output means his show falls easily into any interpretation of what is meant by the BBC’s Reithian directive to transmit only programmes that ‘inform, educate and entertain.’
The second factor behind the breakfast time defenestration of Grimshaw is, I suppose, rather less easy to argue with. The writer of this panegyric to him is not 14. Nor even 21. At 42 years old, I am very much outside the demographic he is meant to be attracting. Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper has stated publicly that the presenter’s task is to ‘to keep his young audience happy and scare off the over-30s.’ If this is the case (and it does seem a bit ageist, if I’m honest) then I recognise I am part of the problem – Nick if you read this please accept my sincere apologies – but it’s hard indeed on the soul to know the mere act of my deriving pleasure from his work dooms him. Oscar Wilde said ‘each man kills the things he loves’. I suspect this isn’t what he had in mind, although it does perhaps go some way to explaining the amazing longevity of Scott Mills’ Radio 1 career.
Anyway, as I say, I’m immensely sad Grimmy will no longer be the man whose job it is to wake up the nation. I’ve always imagined him to be the type of person around whose desk, were he to work in an office, his colleagues would naturally gravitate. The type of person who lifts the atmosphere in a room just by being in it. Certainly, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he isn’t a bore. In modern Britain, those are two qualities that seem in increasingly thin supply. Thanks for the good times, Nick. As you yourself would say: ‘Bye, huuuun’.