Could BBC even consider axing Ken Bruce’s show? – Aidan Smith

The UK’s most popular DJ, Ken Bruce, must not be silenced, writes Aidan Smith amid calls to strip Radio 1 and 2 of licence fee funds.

Ken Bruce's Radio 2 show has an impressive 8.5 million listeners (Picture: Mike Lawn/Shutterstock)
Ken Bruce's Radio 2 show has an impressive 8.5 million listeners (Picture: Mike Lawn/Shutterstock)

He’s a national treasure and a great Scot. He was much-cherished as the best in the business before lockdown and became even more valuable during it as we yearned for a friendly, reassuring voice.

He cannot really explain his popularity, save for suggesting it’s got a lot to do with familiarity and being found in the same place every day. Like a piece of furniture, perhaps – a favourite armchair which might sag a bit and let out the occasional wheeze but that’s part of the charm.

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Or maybe he’s that garden gnome by the back door which was never fashionable in the first place, surviving all attempts to modernise with the acquisition of trendier artefacts, and squats cheekily and conspiratorially, making us smile.

But would the BBC seriously consider throwing Ken Bruce onto the compost-heap?

The Beeb’s main music stations, Radios 1 and 2, should no longer be funded by the licence fee. This is the view of former Culture Minister Lord Vaizey who reckons they’ve lost their distinctiveness and possibly their raison d’etre. There is nothing they do that the commercial stations don’t.

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Lord Vaizey mentions just one DJ by name – you know who – and while conscious that his views will cause upset he’s sticking to them. “I am aware I am straying into dangerous territory as Ken Bruce is the most popular show in the country but things cannot carry on being business as usual,” he says.

Dangerous territory – can you imagine the outcry if our man was to be silenced? There was a previous attempt, easily quashed, and that was before Bruce had risen to his current preeminence with an audience of 8.5 million, the biggest in UK radio.

Protesters would take to the streets in such numbers and bursting with such vitriol that they’d instantly be christened Extinction Midmorning. Their T-shirts would bear the legend “Ooh! One year out!”, the veteran jock’s words of consolation when a quiz hopeful has narrowly failed at PopMaster. And as long as there are cakes, and loos within easy reach, could you really predict anything other than a thumping victory for the loyal and committed foot-soldiers of Ken the Bruce?

But these are, as we know, strange times. And the title of the book in which Lord Vaizey states his case should be cause for some anxiety: The Generation Game: Can the BBC Attract Today’s Young Audience? This is the Beeb’s grand obsession and it may be that nothing and no one is sacred as the state broadcaster attempts frantically to get down with the kids.

Now, nobody is yet proposing the Beeb gets rid of Bruce on Radio 2 and hopefully his vast army of listeners will be cheered by a new survey of the most attractive – let’s not be coy: sexiest – accents in the world in which Scots claim top spot. Admittedly the examples quoted are screen hunks Ewan McGregor and Gerald Butler but don’t underestimate that chuckle in Bruce’s snoozy burr.

The idea, though, that the BBC should give up on at least some pop music has quickly gained traction. Leave Bruce’s Radio 2 alone for now, suggests one cultural commentator, and dump Radio 1.

That might seem daft if you’re trying to appeal to the yoof but maybe it’s not. Pop music isn’t the great unifier it once was. There is no Top of the Pops, no music press, no mass recording of the Sunday evening chart countdown, microphones poised next to transistors with vacuum cleaners banned for the duration. And however pop is consumed now – because it obviously still is, just in a different, splintered, more individual way – we no longer need “the station of the nation”, as Radio One-der-ful used to bill itself.

I say “we” but I don’t listen to Radio 1 any more. It decided some time ago to go after a young crowd but my kids don’t listen either, preferring Capital during the school run. Radio can go too local, I’ll say, complaining about the DJ who sticks a rogue “g” in the middle of words, so that after a game of “badmington” in the Edinburgh district of “Colington” he might fancy a “sangwich”. But then I’ll be told: “Shut up, Dad, we like this song.” Surely, though, the ads are irritating. “No, we think they’re funny, especially the one which goes: ‘Dine alfresco at a baroque piazza’ … ”

This is what children do – ignore their parents with impunity, rebel against their lifestyle choices, although my generation didn’t use such terminology when we listened to Radio 1 because with no other options and the belief that Auntie knew best, it was pretty much prescribed.

How would my brood react if they could hear my Radio 1? With incredulity and hilarity, probably: “What, there was this DJ called Tony who presented the breakfast show with his dog Arnold because his wife Tessa left him only he couldn’t stop playing sad records to try to win her back? And there was this DJ called Simon, quite self-important, who couldn’t stop playing sad records and he caused lorry-drivers to stop at lay-bys because they were crying so much and that made the deliveries of corned beef and custard and everything late? And DLT who made you play darts on the radio, snooker too? And Peter who called everyone ‘mate’? And Mike, very self-important, who liked you to confuse him with Cliff Richard and just went around banning records? That sounds appalling, Dad.”

Maybe it was. And maybe a DJ can’t be all things to all pop-pickers anymore, but Ken Bruce is having a bloody good go, isn’t he?

The BBC should cherish him. A pay rise and a new toadstool at the very least, or what about the Director-General’s job?

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