The 72-year-old Scottish DJ – who has presented his mid-morning programme from 9.30am to midday for more than 30 years – told listeners not to expect “secret messages or hidden agendas” in the songs he played.
Bruce’s departure was soured by a row when BBC bosses brought forward the date of his final show. Bruce is moving to rival Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio (GHR) in April to present a new morning show. Insiders said Bruce’s continued presence on Radio 2 would be “free advertising” for his new employers.
“It’s entirely within the BBC’s right to ask me to step away a little early. But for the sake of 17 days, which was all that was remaining (on my contract), it seems a shame,” Bruce told the Radio 4 Today programme.
He added: “My belief is that, when I’m given a contract, I work to it and complete it. Over the last 46 years, I haven’t had very much time off, I’ve attempted to turn up whenever I’m required to turn up.
“So my natural feeling as a broadcaster is if I’ve got 17 days to do, I want to do them.”
Bruce also told the BBC that he would have the freedom to play the music he likes – classic pop and soul from the 60s onwards – at GHR, also home to former BBC stars Simon Mayo and Mark Goodier.
He was unhappy at having to play dance tracks from the 90s and 2000s as Radio 2 bids to attract a younger audience.
“I’ll be playing the stuff I like. And I’ll be trying to introduce the odd track that I like into the playlist for GHR,” he said.
Asked about walking away from such a successful show on Radio 2, Bruce replied: “It’s become the biggest programme on British radio, and I don’t want to preside over any decline. I want to walk away while it’s the top thing.”
“I’ve gone at my own accord, I wanted to go at this time,” he confirmed. “And I understand the BBC were in the process of preparing an offer for me to continue. But, you know, I’d made my decision before that.”
All parties agreed that the dispute over departure should not overshadow Bruce’s final show.
Signing off with The Beatles’ The End, Bruce thanked his listeners for contributing to a daily “two-way dialogue” and said: “I hope sometime in the future we may be able to continue doing that.”
Despite the “occasional vagary” the BBC was still the “finest broadcasting corporation in the world,” Bruce said.
Handing over to Bruce for the final time, breakfast host Zoe Ball said called him a “class act, self-deprecating and super smart” who had been “so supportive to everyone and wonderful to me.”
“Thank you, and I’ll miss you,” replied Bruce, who broadcast from a desk surrounded by cards from well-wishers. Twice he told listeners not to read any “hidden agendas” in his final musical selections.
He then played Trustfall by Pink, a song about “the plunges people take when they want to test the devotion of those around them.”
Bruce’s farewell playlist included Pilot of the Airwaves by Charlie Dore and Special by Lizzo.
The show included the final BBC edition of Popmaster, the quiz which regularly delivers the day’s peak listening audience.
Bruce is taking the quiz, which has been running since 1998, to his new Greatest Hits radio show as he owns the rights to the format.
Paul, from Norwich, became the last contestant on Ken Bruce’s show segment PopMaster.
The council employee won 27 out of the 39 available points during the Radio 2 quiz which included questions on Sir Cliff Richard, Slade, Cher and Bob Marley.
Bruce read out a message from a listener who said that “at your age, you now need a job that gives you a long break after every three records” – a reference to the advert breaks that will interrupt Bruce’s GHR show.
Simon Mayo said it was surprising that the BBC let the broadcaster Ken Bruce continue with his Radio 2 show after he had announced his departure to a rival station.
Mayo told Roger Bolton’s Beeb Watch podcast: “The situation has been handled badly. I think what’s surprising is that it lingered as long as it did. If you’re on social media, the Greatest Hit Radio Twitter icon is Ken Bruce.”
“Ken is an advert for Greatest Hits Radio now, so I can understand why they might have thought we need to hasten these things. It’s unfortunate because it does feel messy. “
Bruce had previously revealed he was a “little surprised and disappointed” that his final show was brought forward to Friday by the BBC.
A Radio 2 spokesperson previously said: “Ken decided to leave Radio 2 and it’s always been known he’s leaving in March.”
“Returning to Wogan House for a week after a month of broadcasting the Piano Room sessions at Maida Vale provided a natural break. We wish Ken all the best for the future.”
Bruce first joined the corporation in 1977 in his 30s as a BBC Radio Scotland presenter, going on to present several different programmes.
His first regular slot on Radio 2 was the Saturday Late Show in 1984, and the following year he fronted the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, taking over from Sir Terry Wogan.
Bruce later moved to mid-mornings in 1986 and after a brief stint on late nights and early mornings, returned to mid-mornings in January 1992.
Vernon Kay takes over Bruce’s show in May with Gary Davies filling in from next Monday. Davies is expected to introduce listeners to a new daily quiz replacing Popmaster.