The news broke very suddenly last Friday. This was going to be Ken Bruce’s last week on Radio 2. It wasn’t supposed to be.

We’ve known since January that he was leaving the BBC. He intended, and we expected, that this would happen at the end of this month. So did next week’s Radio Times. He’s clearly billed there as still being in the seat he’s occupied for more than the last three decades. What happened?

Perhaps Radio 2’s management only just realised what a loss he’s going to be, how advertising his departure for another whole month would only draw attention to where he could be heard next. There’s no doubt how much his audience loves him. He has eight million listeners, the force that has pushed Radio 2 to the top of the national ratings ladder. Yet it seems Radio 2 had been thinking of moving him or, at least, not rewarding him adequately for what he has brought to the network. Such as? Humour, team spirit, informed musical taste, the ability to talk to anyone and to listen to what they say. Hence the mighty listening figures.

All of that was evident in this morning’s final programme. It felt, listening, as if everyone at the BBC was crowding in to say a personal farewell, bring a present, offer another bouquet of praise, get in on his act. What shone out was his inclusion of each of us, the rest of us, listening in the kitchen, the car, the hospital bed, as if we were right there in the studio with him. We were there as he opened the presents, joked with the pals dropping by. We weren’t stuck outside with our noses against the studio glass, gazing from afar. We were right beside him. He has that rare gift of making even a huge audience feel welcome, individually valued. No wonder his departure made news across every BBC network.

But on April 3 he will start his new morning show, 10 am – 1 pm, on commercial rivals Greatest Hits. He won’t have an eight million audience. But he will have a considerably bigger pay packet, rumoured to be in the region of £600,000. The expectation is that he will be worth every penny if he manages to draw not just disaffected Radio 2 listeners but great slices of the 30+ age group that commercial radio needs – listeners with money to spend and ears to lend. Bruce, you see, is that rare thing: a proven asset.

He has worked for the BBC for decades, first in Scotland, learning, working his way up from through announcing, news reading, anything that came along from 1978 onward. It was the chance to work for Radio 2 that brought him to London. He got his first regular Radio 2 show in 1984.

He’s done late night shows, breakfast shows, worked with every legend from Ray Moore onwards. If anyone knows the ways of the Corporation, it’s Bruce. He can read its runes better than most because his roots in it go so deep. When he had a conversation with his Radio 2 bosses earlier this year he may have sensed the climate was changing: it wasn’t just that money was tight. Rumours were rife that they were thinking of a change of presenter, probably someone younger, for his 9.30-noon slot, the one he had made not just a ratings winner but a much-loved institution.

More on Ken Bruce

Bruce doesn’t just build big audiences. He knows them. Forty odd years of broadcasting have proved his continuing rapport with listeners. He’s a shrewd investment for Bauer, the second biggest operator in British commercial radio. Bauer are backing Bruce for sound reasons. Here’s why. The nation’s top five radio stations are led by Radio 2 (15.3 million listeners). Second is Radio 4, (11 million). Third is Heart, Global’s music network, fourth is BBC Radio, fifth is Capital, also part of Global’s empire. Bauer faces, therefore, a mighty challenge. It will take time and patience to get into that league, not to mention making them a serious rival to Global.

No wonder they’ve invested in a proven star. Bruce fits that bill perfectly. He is at ease on the air and makes the listener feel that way too. It’s a rare talent. And with him, of course, comes the PopMaster quiz, the rights to which the BBC failed to hang onto and which could prove a great sponsorship opportunity put in the commercial world. You could almost hear the teeth gnashing at Wogan House, Radio 2’s headquarters…

But don’t forget the main attraction. When was the last time a radio disc jockey had a special big feature about him on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme? That’s what Bruce got (or was Today merely thumbing its nose at Radio 2 for having lost a major asset? Not that Today has anything to brag about. Its listening has been on the slide for a year or more.)

Meanwhile, pity poor Gary Davies. He’s just landed the task of filling Bruce’s Radio 2 shoes until Vernon Kay takes over in April. Good luck to the pair of them. They’ll need it.

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