Once again, the unfiltered world of Twitter has been the stage for a high-profile spat, with 6Music presenter Huey Morgan taking to the network on Tuesday morning to unleash a barrage of abuse relating to Monday’s Sony Radio Academy Awards. The erstwhile Fun Lovin Criminal, who was an unsuccessful nominee for the Music Radio Personality of the Year prize, launched into a sour-grapes rant against fellow 6Music DJ Lauren Laverne (category Silver winner) and Radio 2′s Chris Evans (category Gold winner). Morgan later apologised, after 6Music controller Bob Shennan stepped in to speak to him and defuse the situation.
An awkward scrape, for sure. However, in the context of the history of hard-to-manage radio DJs, Morgan’s indiscretions are barely worth a mention – and, while probably unaware of the irony, his mention of Evans brought to mind the merry dance that the Ginger Productions founder led Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister when he presented the station’s flagship Breakfast Show in the mid-90s.
Evans was brought in as the golden hope of broadcasting and given free rein by Bannister – a decision initially vindicated by the gain of 600,000 listeners over rival Steve Wright. However, after believing that that free rein extended to a) arriving late; b) taking unplanned holidays; c) upsetting broadcasting watchdogs and d) ultimately requesting a four-day week, Evans quit after less than two years once Bannister finally started to say “No” to his star.
In America, of course, the king of the “shock jocks” is undoubtedly Howard Stern who, like Evans, is a nightmare to manage; in his 20-year stretch at the WXRK radio station, ending in 2006, he had the honour of hosting the most-fined radio program ever, with the powerful US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issuing fines totalling more than $2.5m for broadcasting indecent material. In exchange for this hefty price, though, Stern delivered an audience of 20 million listeners – along with a host of syndication awards.
Radio DJs are almost always going to be hugely egotistical and, when combined with a desire to be edgy and push the boundaries, this can result in a toxic combination. But this is often the sort of behaviour that gains column inches, captures word of mouth and, ultimately, delivers listeners. So managing them is an inherently tricky business: station controllers must let out enough rope to promote creativity, but not so much that it risks hanging the show, or the station itself.
It was understandable to trust the instincts of a naturally gifted performer such as Evans, but ultimately he had a far shorter stint at Radio 1 than would otherwise have been the case had he not been quite so indulged. Indeed, Evans would probably be the first to admit that he was close to unmanageable at that time, and his more refined latter incarnation is now a fantastic servant to Radio 2 – his maturity almost certainly stemming from those earlier mistakes.
The debate on pushing boundaries in comedy, and broadcasting, will always be a sensitive one, with the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross “Sachsgate” incident responsible for far more rigorous checks on output – at least at the BBC. But Radio broadcasting is an art form, and DJs must be able to express themselves in ways that listeners respond to. The caveat is that those listeners also know how to write letters of complaint. But a wise station controller should always find a balance between addressing audience concerns and keeping the airwaves fresh and relevant.
Managing these stars will never – and should never – be easy.