There were grim tidings this week for fans of middle-aged men with perky hair spinning the latest pop hits. Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw has announced he’s leaving Radio 1 after 14 years. “My childhood dream was to work on Radio 1 and I have been lucky enough to make that dream come true,” he said on Instagram. “But over the last few months I've been doing a lot of thinking about my future. I've made the decision that it's time for me to move on”.
Moving on is what a lot of BBC Radio 1 personalities have been doing recently. Annie Mac, who started out co-presenting a youth show with Grimshaw, is likewise hanging up her mic, following the publication of her first novel.
There was a time when the departure of two high profile Radio 1 presenters would have been interpreted as an indication of institutional crisis. Won’t someone think of all those kids tuning in to hear their favourite chart smashes –but without Grimmy’s brimful of “banter” or Annie Mac’s big-sister energy to guide them?
So it feels significant that news of the departure of Grimshaw from the drivetime berth and Annie Mac from her 6pm to 8pm slot have landed not as bombshells but as the the dampest of squibs. As Grimshaw, 36, may have realised as he looked around Radio 1 HQ and saw nothing but people a good decade his junior scrolling through their phones, the era of the big name pop DJ is at an end. He is to be replaced in the drive-time berth by Vick Hope and Jordan North, neither of whom bring anything like the instant recognition that Grimshaw did at the zenith of his fame.
How long ago those days now seem. There was a time when Grimshaw was unavoidable. Just like Chris Evans, Chris Moyles or Jo Whiley before him, even if you never ventured near a radio you knew who he was, what he sounded like – and who his friends were. These included Harry Styles, Olly Murs and the late Caroline Flack. His 30th birthday party was the starriest of bashes with a guest-list that included Florence Welch, Millie Mackintosh, Abbey Clancy, Jaime Winstone and Daisy Lowe.
He was also, of course, a judge on The X Factor, parachuted into the series in 2015 in place of Louis Walsh to add some “yoof” appeal (this was judged a disaster and Walsh was back the following year).
But as Grimshaw lived it up on the a-list, the pop business was changing. Across the past decade, the number of 15 to 24 year olds tuning in to radio has plunged (the hours young people listened to Radio 1 fell by 13 million from 2010 to 2016 alone).
These kids hadn’t given up on pop. But the way in which they explored new music had changed. The age of streaming had arrived. In May 2017 the bell tolled in earnest as Spotify eclipsed Radio 1 in listeners for the first time. That was the month Radio 1 posted its lowest seven-day listenership figure to that point in its history, at 9.1 million, even as Spotify’s weekly average surged past 10 million.
Streaming’s rules are very different to those of the drivetime radio where Grimshaw came of age. It’s all about playlists and Spotify’s omniscient recommendation algorithm. What it isn’t about is a guy the wrong side of 30 banging on about how matey he is with Harry Styles and then talking over the end of the new Olivia Rodrigo single.
The BBC seems to have adapted to this grave new world by recruiting presenters who are less about personality than about keeping their heads down and spinning tunes. And with Mac and Grimshaw out, what “big names” remain on Radio 1? There is breakfast presenter Greg James (who replaced Grimshaw in the breakfast slot) and, at a push, Clara Amfo.
But that’s it. The logic is presumably that kids don’t want personalities. Anyone interested in a DJ coaxing forth the Alan Partridge within will have already long ago switched the dial to Radio 2, where a craggier demographic has helped the station hold firm with an average of 14 million weekly listeners. In this era of playlists, youth-oriented hosts such as Grimshaw meanwhile find themselves in a precarious position. Regarded as out of touch and out of time, they’ve grown old in an business that, now as never before, is all about the latest bangers and, even more importantly, the latest tech.