Veteran Radio 2 DJ Ken Bruce had no idea he’d be wrapping up his 31-year on air stint so soon until he was called in for a meeting this week.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Bruce, 72, said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’ by the BBC’s decision, which paves the way for his younger replacement Vernon Kay.
Kay landed the coveted mid-morning timeslot but isn’t expected to take over until May. Bruce expected to see out the remainder of his contract and wrap up the show by the end of March. Instead, Gary Davies will temporarily helm the show.
He said: ‘I was called in at 12.30 and told that my final show would be a week today and wasn’t given any real reason that I understood.
‘I’m a little surprised and disappointed.’
Friends say he’d given a commitment not to say anything that could embarrass the BBC in the remaining weeks of his contract, making him all the more surprised by the decision to end his show earlier than expected.
An industry insider said that move by the BBC made the broadcaster look ‘very ungracious’ about Bruce’s ‘decades of service’.
They said: ‘It shows zero respect for Ken and what he has done for Radio 2.’
Veteran DJ Ken Bruce is to step down from his popular BBC Radio 2 show in April and will be succeeded by Vernon Kay
Additionally, the insider said the move showed ‘contempt’ for the audience.
Bruce issued a short statement last night revealing he intended to work right up until the end of his contract at the end of March, but his final show will now be next Friday.
He said on Twitter: ‘I will be presenting my last show on Radio 2 next Friday. I had intended fulfilling my contract until the end of March but the BBC has decided it wants me to leave earlier.
‘Let’s enjoy the week ahead.’
In response, a BBC spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘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.’
The revelation that he’d been replaced by Kay came as a shock to listeners and has further stoked tensions among fans who are accusing the network of ‘ageism’ following a shock exodus among some of the most high profile stars.
Bruce, 72, today issued a short statement revealing he intended to work right up until the end of his contract at the end of March, but his final show will now be next Friday
Bruce will move to rival Greatest Hits radio later this year, while Kay has signed a two-year deal with Radio 2.
His post was flooded with support from fans who have vowed to ditch BBC and follow him to his new gig. Many say they’ve been listening to Radio 2 with him at the helm for the full 31 years, and can’t imagine it any other way.
One wrote: ‘You have been the reason why I’ve stayed as a @BBCRadio2 listener. I used to arrange my work around your show. I shall be following you on your onward journey.’
Another added: ‘Will miss you, Ken (actually, I won’t, I’ll be following you to your ‘new place’).’
And another said: ‘Oh well, looks like I’ll be leaving radio 2 next Friday also then.
‘Ken your listening army is going with you make no mistake… BBC just continue to get it so wrong.’
In spite of the backlash, sources at the network say Kay has amassed his own following who are excited to see him take the reins.
Helen Thomas, head of Radio 2, said: ‘Radio 2 is home to some of the UK’s best-loved presenters, and I’m thrilled to welcome Vernon to mid-mornings on Radio 2.
‘He’s a hugely talented, warm and witty host who has already proved himself to be a firm favourite with our listeners when he’s presented many and varied shows across the station. I can’t wait to hear his brilliant new show.’
The BBC confirmed Gary Davies, host of the station’s Sounds Of The 80s, will present the mid-morning show from March 6 until Kay takes over the helm in May on a date which is yet to be announced.
His post was flooded with support from fans who have vowed to ditch BBC and follow him to his new gig. Many say they’ve been listening to Radio 2 with him at the helm for the full 31 years, and can’t imagine it any other way
Kay, who is married to Strictly presenter Tess Daly, will host his first show in May
Industry insiders have said Kay is unlikely to be given Bruce’s £389,999-a-year salary because of his age and lack of radio experience compared to the veteran, who draws in 8.2million listeners each week.
A senior radio source told MailOnline: ‘Vernon’s agents would have used Ken’s salary as a starting point but would probably have been negotiated down to £250,000 to £300,000, reflecting that he’s much less experienced than Ken. He is younger and probably cheaper.’
Kay said today that he was ‘absolutely over the moon to be handed the microphone to present the mid-morning show on Radio 2,’ adding that it was ‘an honour to follow in the footsteps of the mighty Ken Bruce’.
He added: ‘I look forward to playing some of the best music in the world whilst in the company of the Radio 2 listeners who I feel I’ve got to know over the last 18 months.
‘It’s a dream come true to join the Radio 2 family and I can’t wait to start.’
The DJ will usher in Radio 2’s new weekday pop quiz to replace Bruce’s popular PopMaster format as well as continuing his own radio show which he has fronted since 2018.
It comes after legendary local radio DJ Roger ‘Twiggy’ Day, who now works for Boom Radio, said today: ‘Vernon Kay to replace Ken Bruce on Radio Two. Great news for Boom. They should rename it [Radio 2] TV on Radio’ – a reference to the number of TV stars now on the station, which on Friday confirmed former model and T4 presenter Kay as host.
Radio 2 fans have accused the BBC of ageism as a string of older DJs step back, including Paul O’Grady, Steve Wright, Ken Bruce and Simon Mayo
Vernon Kay: From magazine model to one of Britain’s most recognisable broadcasters
Vernon Kay has become a familiar face and voice to the British public after fronting a variety of TV shows and radio programmes across his career.
The 48-year-old presenter will once again be heard by listeners across the country as he replaces Ken Bruce on his BBC Radio 2 mid-morning weekday show.
Brought up in Bolton, Greater Manchester, Kay started his career in the industry after he was scouted by a modelling agency while on a drunken night out with friends.
The broadcaster had been working for his cousin in his DIY shop at the time when he was asked to do a catwalk by a scout while attending the BBC Clothes Show Live.
After he strutted for the agent, he was invited to London and did a number of magazine modelling gigs.
Kay later moved into presenting and has hosted TV shows for ITV including All Star Family Fortunes, Splash!, Just The Two Of Us, Beat The Star and 1,000 Heartbeats.
He also presented his own BBC Radio 1 show between 2004 and 2012, and another on Radio X between 2015 and 2017.
Kay previously filled in for other Radio 2 presenters including Zoe Ball and Scott Mills.
He has also hosted coverage of Formula E motor racing and previously said he thinks sports presenting is more difficult than some of his previous jobs.
In 2020, he appeared on the 20th series of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, finishing in third place behind radio DJ Jordan North and podcaster and presenter Giovanna Fletcher, who was crowned Queen of the Jungle.
Kay has also led two all-male takeovers of Loose Women to celebrate International Men’s Day and Mental Health Awareness Week.
On the special editions, dubbed Loose Men, he discussed the importance of men speaking about their mental health alongside famous faces including rugby player Mike Tindall, radio presenter Roman Kemp and comedian Iain Stirling.
Kay has been married to Strictly Come Dancing host Tess Daly, 53, since 2003 and the couple have two daughters, Phoebe and Amber.
Ken Bruce is the latest in a long line of older DJs to leave Radio 2 – and his loyal fans have vowed to follow him and his much-loved Popmaster quiz. His mid-morning show is the most popular in the UK.
So-called ‘Radio 2 refugees’ are upset by ever-younger DJs playing increasingly modern hits, with Ken also reportedly said to share concerns about the station’s edgier playlist.
Radio 2 has haemorrhaged 580,000 listeners in the last year after axing older stars.
Former fan of the station Fiona Rees tweeted: ‘This has had a huge impact on me.
‘All negative… Vernon Kay now replacing Ken Bruce. Radio 2 is totally unrecognisable.’
The BBC has continually been accused of ageism as Paul O’Grady exited Radio 2 – preceded by Steve Wright, 68, Graham Norton, 59, and Simon Mayo, 64, all replaced with a younger line-up.
Vanessa Feltz, 60, and Craig Charles, 58, have also moved on, with Ms Feltz saying her exit was because she was a woman over the age of 60.
This sidelining of older ‘baby-boomer’ DJs and pursuing ‘Gen Z’ and younger listeners with under-50 presenters playing fewer classic hits and more modern pop has coincided with listeners going elsewhere.
Listener Dan Tappin wrote: ‘I’ve been quite supportive of the changes to Radio 2 because the station has to change to reflect 40-year-olds of now.
‘But Vernon Kay is not the correct replacement for Ken Bruce.’
Dan Rowley added: ‘Vernon Kay to replace Ken Bruce. Poor lad. It’s like when Moyes replaced Fergie.’
Bruce’s slot has been hailed as the ‘biggest, most coveted’ job in radio.
A source said: ‘Ken’s show is the most listened to in Europe so Vernon has massive shoes to fill.
‘But he’s such a warm, easy presenter and listeners have really taken to him.
‘Vernon has a raft of fresh, new ideas and content, but will not be trying to reinvent the wheel here – he knows how important this show is to listeners, and wants them to feel welcome and safe.
‘Everyone at the Beeb is hugely excited to have him on board.’
A formal announcement confirming Kay was made on Friday, after contracts were understood to have been signed last week.
Kay, who is married to Strictly presenter Tess Daly, will host his first show in May.
A source told the Sun: ‘Ken is Europe’s most listened-to DJ and has nothing left to prove at the BBC.
‘He’s had an incredible time working there and is so grateful for the loyalty of all his listeners.
‘But in recent years, there’s been a noticeable shift in direction, with a drive to attract a younger audience.’
Ken Bruce (pictured with his good friend Rod Stewart) is leaving the BBC after 45 years, quitting Radio 2 for Greatest Hits Radio
Ken Bruce said he has done all he could at the BBC and wants a fresh challenge for the end of his career. Many fans will follow him
BBC Radio 2 has been accused of ageism after the mass departure of some of its best-known hosts
Last month, it was reported Bruce quit Radio 2 because he felt ‘unloved’ by bosses – who failed to reassure him over a new contract even though they wanted to keep him, BBC insiders say.
One source claimed that despite the desire to hang on to the DJ – Britain’s most popular radio host – a ‘mix-up’ meant he wasn’t told. This is said to have helped convince him to join commercial rival Greatest Hits Radio.
The unexpected announcement of the 71-year-old presenter’s departure is now said to have sparked discord at the BBC, as many regard it as completely avoidable.
One well-placed source said: ‘They definitely wanted to renew his contract but because of a mix-up nobody told him. He is a proud man and did not want to ask. When he told them he was going they were all saying, ‘but we were about to offer you a three-year deal’… Bit late.’
But another source close to the station disputed the contract claims, saying: ‘Ken was reassured on more than one occasion that his future on Radio 2 was safe.’
The Scottish star is believed to have been unsettled by the way the corporation had axed presenter Steve Wright’s long-running show last year amid a push to appeal to younger listeners.
Bruce is also said to have asked bosses to stop making him play ‘tuneless dance music’ but had not received any proper responses to his pleas.
The Radio 2 insider told the Mail: ‘Ken felt unloved. Part of the issue was being told our target audience is ‘mood mums’ but never hearing who they are or what they want! We have started to play a lot of tuneless dance music and Ken had begged them to stop making him play it but apparently his emails never got responses.’
The source, who accused bosses of being ‘asleep at the wheel’, added: ‘[Wright’s departure] just focused his mind. When they sacked Steve they didn’t consider the effect it might have on the rest of the presenters.’
Bruce has been at the BBC for 45 years – 31 of them presenting his Radio 2 mid-morning show.