When Chris Moyles took over Radio 1's breakfast show he claimed to be the station's saviour. Two years on, he just about is. And that's just for starters, he tells Julia Day
At the end of the Chris Moyles breakfast show at Radio 1, there is a Wizard of Oz moment. As the team gathers for a postmortem on the morning's performance, Moyles' sound desk lowers silently from the standing height at which he works. Inch by inch it reveals, not the larger-than-life loudmouth know-it-all barking at the nation a few minutes ago, but a rather earnest and workmanlike broadcaster.
When Dorothy's dog Toto tugged the Emerald City curtain aside, it revealed that, behind his magnificent mask, the Wizard of Oz was just an ordinary man - but one none the less capable of delivering the goods.
It is a bit like that with Moyles. On the radio he sounds like a gruff giant of a man, spewing acidic putdowns while cutting off unsuspecting callers mid-sentence as witty acolytes egg him on in an atmosphere of barely controlled chaos.
But the boastful caricature obscures the fact he is a serious broadcaster. Everything is planned to the second; banter pre-arranged, callers primed, sound-effects cued. Moyles orchestrates a five-person comedy show, making it sound genuine, edgy and effortless, pulling in his best-ever breakfast audience of 6.5 million listeners and contributing to Radio 1's recent renaissance in the process.
Today marks Moyles' second anniversary at the helm of the Radio 1 breakfast show and the 31-year-old's big-mouthed boast about being "the saviour of Radio 1" sounds less hollow as the months tick by. When he took over the breakfast slot from Sara Cox, Radio 1 was out of tune with its audience and ratings were hitting all-time lows. Undoubtedly boosted by Moyles' success, the station is enjoying its highest audience share in four years (9.4%) and has more than 10 million listeners.
If the Leeds-born DJ has his way, he will stay on breakfast for the next eight years. A decade on the show would clock up a record, he says. And for the man who began his radio career aged 16 broadcasting to teenage shoppers at Top Shop, carving his own name in the history of Radio 1 is important. "I want to up the ante next year. I don't want to get lazy. I want to take it to another level, make the show bigger, be more creative," he says. "So that it's not just about a radio show you forget about when you switch off." Moyles intends to develop something more than the traditional breakfast show, to extend his brand. He wants to create a television spin-off and is considering a stage version, after the successful transfers to theatre of Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen.
"We produce 60 hours [of content] a month. And we've got an audience there already that would, in theory, be interested in watching what we do. We've got a comedy show, a list of characters that everybody who listens to the show on a regular basis knows, and we make [the audience] laugh, so why can't that work? If you could get it right. I don't know anyone who's ever tried that before."
He insists that he is not desperate to be a success in TV - "My ego's not that bad" - but he would like to be. And this time preferably in something good. Moyles' first foray - the Chris Evans-produced Live With Chris Moyles, on Five - bombed. "I want the next thing I do on telly to work, I want it to be good," he says.
The ideal vehicle, he thinks, would be a version of America's David Letterman show. Which is not, as he concedes, an original ambition: "Ask anybody in radio what TV show they'd like to do and they'll describe the Letterman show."
He believes that straying too far from a tested format is too risky and that the trick is to do a great personal version of a classic show. "Jonathan Ross's show is just Parky without the seriousness or TFI Friday without the silliness. But it's still a bloody great show. I'm curious to do more telly but I won't leap around doing shit. I want to make it work."
At the moment, Moyles feels his wings are clipped by the £355m-a-year cuts introduced by the BBC director-general Mark Thompson. Moyles believes outside broadcasts around the UK are essential to building audience, but says it is becoming increasingly difficult as the 15% cuts are instituted across the BBC. "We got out and about a bit in the first year, but not so much this year because of station staff and money, which is starting to become a real pain in the arse," he says, obviously frustrated. "There is a major lack of funds - the money thing is really difficult. We just don't get enough money and it's really frustrating because we do a lot of really good stuff, but it costs money. The argument is that [lack of funds] makes you be a little bit more creative, but after a while that argument gets extremely tedious."
However his discontent at BBC budgets does not rankle enough to prompt a move to the commercial sector; commercial radio could not afford him nor offer him a national platform, and commercial bosses would not leave him alone to do his thing, he says. But he wishes Radio 1 could act more like a commercial entity: "It kills me that we can't advertise. That we can't have an advert going out during The X Factor or Coronation Street. Word of mouth and promoting the show is essential." His comment will make commercial broadcasters choke on their cornflakes. The ad-funded radio industry believes the BBC already has an unfair advantage by being able to cross-promote its services via its TV, radio and online outlets for free, and that Radio 1, in particular, is overly commercial.
There seems to be a lot of pressure on Moyles to expand, to push his talent further, to be the biggest and the best, but, he says, the pressure does not come from Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt or from the BBC. He simply piles the pressure on himself. He seems worried about not achieving, not breaking records, not doing enough. Most breakfast shows are "formulaic" and "rubbish" and "obvious", he says. He will string out a story over an hour, for instance, going against the perceived wisdom that people only listen in short snippets at breakfast.
He is conscious of sounding "massively arrogant" when he talks about his knack for radio, but he is confident enough of his abilities. For example, he "just knew we could do a better job" on breakfast than Cox - and being told by a previous Radio 1 boss, whom he refuses to name, that he would never do breakfast only spurred him on. But he did not grow up dreaming of perfecting the art of the breakfast show: "The only reason we're doing breakfast is because it's potentially the biggest time slot of the day. If it was afternoons we'd have stayed on afternoons."
Moyles is convinced that his breakfast show can grow with the brand-awareness marketing he worries the Thompson cuts will adversely affect: "It's not necessarily what we do on the show, it's awareness of the show, people trying it out and liking it and staying. It's [about] getting the message out, because there's still a lot of people that don't listen to Radio 1." This probably explains the success of brand- extending ventures such as the weekly podcast, which has become the BBC's most popular, with 80,000 downloads a week.
Moyles clearly thinks a great deal about how to improve his show and break new ground, but he does not appear to find it hard work; he exists on four-and-a-half hours' sleep, gets up later than he should - sometimes arriving at Radio 1 with just 15 minutes to spare before his show - and goes home to play Star Wars Battlefront on his Xbox. The intuitive knowledge and accumulated experience of someone who has spent more than half his lifetime in radio sees him through.