News UK’s Virgin Radio poaches Chris Evans: ‘Our ambition is to be #1 digital radio station’

Chris Evans rejoins Virgin Radio

Former Top Gear host and long-time radio personality Chris Evans has made the leap from BBC Radio to Virgin Radio, a jump from public to commercial radio.

Evans was one of the highest paid presenters at the BBC, earning between £1.6m and £1.7m in 2017. He made the announcement live on BBC Radio 2, indicating the conclusion of his 13-year spell at the company.

Evans said: “I have absolutely loved every single moment of my time at Radio 2. The last 13 years have flashed by in what seems like the blink of an eye. I have learnt so much from so many people to whom I will be eternally grateful.

"As Sir Terry [Wogan] said before me, there’s never a right time to leave something you love but there might be a wrong time if you hang on too long. I honestly think The Breakfast Show is currently as positive, useful, sunny and inclusive as it has ever been. In fine shape for its next custodian. Whoever that turns out to be, I wish them all the very best, they are in for an absolute blast.”

Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC branded Evans as an “absolutely first-class presenter” who “brought both warmth and a genuine insight into what listeners want”.

New employer Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News UK, also put out a statement signaling what the move means, she said: "Our ambition now is to drive Virgin Radio to become the number 1 digital radio station in the UK."

Evans will now present the Virgin breakfast show in the News Building’s new purpose-built studios after his final show is wrapped up In December 2018.

It marks Evans’ return to the station after almost 20 years. His new audience will be substantially smaller than the 9 million he enjoys at the BBC initially but he has a remit to grow the Virgin Radio brand.

In a separate statement, Evans said: “In many ways Virgin Radio is my spiritual home. I see nothing but exciting and groundbreaking opportunities ahead. In a medium that is changing so quickly on a daily basis, the potential for growth is unprecedented. Our plan is: to give it all we’ve got, see where we can get to and have the most possible fun along the way. It makes me smile every time I think about it.”

Virgin Radio was relaunched two years ago as a digital-only channel. Scott Taunton, chief executive of parent brand Wireless Group, concluded: “We are beyond thrilled that Chris has chosen to come back to Virgin Radio. He is the biggest name in radio and is synonymous with the brand. He has the most exciting Breakfast Show in the industry and has an energy that captivates audiences.”

Sean Allen-Moy, head of W Enterprise and a former BBC Radio 2 producer shared his views on the move.

"Whether it was going on strike from Radio 1, nights out with Paul Gascoigne, buying a radio station or even marrying Billie Piper - Chris Evans has been one of the UK media’s most infamous figures for decades. His shock departure, announced this morning between travel reports and Take That bared the same sense of drama, anticipation and provocation as one of Shaun Ryder’s notorious appearances on TFI Friday.

"Ever since the Top Gear reboot that never got out of first and the revelation that the man whose career started as a tea boy for Timmy Mallet was the highest paid broadcaster at the BBC, Evans' relationship with his employer seemed to be running out of road. But no one expected him to walk away from the biggest job in radio. Evans has ensured the media will be tuned in to his every word between now and his final morning at Wogan House.

"The latest incarnation of Virgin was recently acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, under the leadership of another flame-haired tabloid villain, the former The Sun editor Rebekah Brooks. If today’s coordinated and calculated announcement is anything to go by – the coming together of one of the UK’s most talked-about broadcasters with the UK’s most high-profile media groups is going to grab headlines as well as listeners. And by poaching the presenter of the most listened to radio show in the UK, News UK could not have made a bigger statement of its intent to make a noise in the radio industry, and to take the fight to Murdoch and Brook’s old nemesis the BBC."

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