Graham Norton rules the airwaves!

The genial Irish broadcaster has swapped radio stations. The Recs tunes in to hear Graham Norton in his new home.

Making the move from his cosy home on BBC Radio 2 to the more youthful Virgin Radio was a risk for Graham Norton – The Recs has listened in to his first two weekends and has reached its verdict!

Wave Goodbye...

The nation collectively reeled on the 11th November 2020 when it was announced that Graham Norton, after 10 years, was to leave his Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 2 the following month. Well perhaps not the whole nation, but certainly the army of fans who would tune in at 10am each Saturday – a not inconsequential regular four million plus listeners!

And the unexpected departure from the nation’s most listened to radio station certainly made headlines.

Even for people who were not regular radio listeners, Radio 2’s Graham Norton Show on a Saturday proved unmissable entertainment over the decade.

Following Jonathan Ross’s hasty departure from the coveted slot in the wake of “Sachsgate”, Graham created a show that was warm, funny and relaxed.

Items like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better, where listeners chose terrible records that couldn’t even scrape a guilty pleasure excuse in their awfulness, and Tune With A Tale, which were nominated records that listeners would explain the narrative contained in the song and would win a tea towel. Or something. Mostly just an on-air chat with Graham would be the reward.

Over the decade, Irishman Graham proved himself to be the natural successor to the much-loved Sir Terry Wogan. Not just as the inherited wry hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest, but Graham had that warm connection with his listeners, a writer’s way with words and an effortless broadcasting style that made the three hours fly past.

No sooner had the shock departure announcement set in than the news broke that Graham would be joining commercial Virgin Radio on the weekend with two shows; one on Saturday and one on Sunday, both starting at 9.30am. 

The question remained how would Graham sound on this new channel?

...Say Hello!

The Recs duly tuned in for Graham’s first broadcast at his new channel on the 9th January 2021 and from the off, any fears that we might lose some of Graham’s easygoing style in the cut and thrust of the new channel were immediately dispelled. 

No Ad Breaks

What has worked well is a canny move by Virgin Radio is the absence of adverts interrupting the flow of the show, alienating Radio 2 converts. “No ad breaks” have been reassuringly proclaimed in the big-money, full-page promos in the papers. Smart! 

Having no commercial breaks in the show is apparently the same as The Chris Evans Breakfast Show, which rather than having ad breaks, is sponsored by Sky. Having a “We Buy Any Car” sting would have given tentative Radio 2 followers the perfect excuse to jump ship.

Free The Norton

Rather than a tentative start, Graham has hit the airwaves of Virgin Radio like a man rejuvenated.

Here’s the shocker: Graham at Virgin is allowed to drive his own desk! In interviews after leaving the BBC, Norton revealed “At Radio 2, I was never allowed to touch a button, I was just gloves on, and I’d sit there and talk. So everything happened around me.”

For a man as bright as Norton, you can imagine how easy it would be to slip into autopilot headlining a show but being the talk-filler between music and jingles and yes, endless adverts for other Radio 2 shows we wouldn’t listen to.

In a pre-launch interview, Norton said: “But here, I’m pushing some buttons and it’s pathetic how excited that makes me. It’s like that thing when you’ve learned to drive, you’ve passed your test and then you’re on the motorway and you’re like ‘this isn’t illegal…but it should be!”

As a listener, you can hear the enthusiasm of a man who is suddenly driving his own radio show and is loving it. Okay, yes, perhaps he did playing his new “Graham Norton” sting accidentally this weekend during Crazy from the Madame X album by Madonna but are you telling me it didn’t sound all the better for the additional jingle?

You can imagine some of his former Beeb cohorts clutching their pearls at such a gaffe but here’s the thing: we are not tuning into Graham’s weekend radio broadcasts to hear perfect DJ rockin’ – Graham is a relaxed, charming voice especially for these troubled times and if a jingle goes off accidentally, it matters not a jot. 

Saving the Best

Our absolute favourite feature of the BBC Radio 2 incarnation of the Graham Norton show was always Grill Graham. An Agony Uncle section in name only. 

Ahead of the aforementioned Grill Graham, our host would chat with his long-term mucker, the fabulous Maria McErlane. 

If you were a viewer of the unjustifiably short-lived 1996 British television game show, Carnal Knowledge, you’d have witnessed the hilarious, natural rapport between the two. 

Listening to Graham and Maria’s banter ahead of the Grill Graham section was akin to eavesdropping on two very funny, saucy best friends. You wanted to be at their table as they would reduce the world to a kind, embraceable thing. 

They would then, after a filler record, launch into a letter delineating some hapless listener’s problem – a usually light, but occasionally important dilemma – to which the pair would give their advice. Albeit with the usual BBC risk-adverse disclaimer: “We are not experts”. One wonders who would be a full-qualified BBC-approved expert to deal with a noisy neighbour or a festive fallout with a sibling over a Christmas pudding.

What a relief that Virgin Radio has managed to lure Her Hastings Majesty to join Graham with the entirely-new-and-never-heard-of-before feature Graham’s Guide (yes really) – what would a Norton radio weekend be with Maria dropping her headphones and coughing before she reads a letter? 



Some previous listeners found it tricky to find Graham Norton on his new Virgin channel. Not least because while BBC Radio 2 was available on most TVs, it turned out that Virgin Radio was not – not even on those with Virgin TV packages! I mean we could tell you of the ways to listen but just click the button below to save time.

Sounds and Sundays

Whilst a Graham Norton Saturday on Virgin is pretty much the same as it always was, there is one difference that is grating a little: Virgin Radio really is the musical home of boys and their guitars.

Looking at the Virgin Radio 100 Last Songs playlist on Spotify at this exact point of writing, we have Travis, Oasis, Kings of Leon, Blur, BANNERS, The Killers, Ed Sheeran and Texas. Check any day and you’ll get such a mix. That’s the sound of Virgin Radio.

But it’s not the sound of Graham’s radio shows until now. The relentless twang of guitar pop feels like a limitation to the show we are used to. 

Graham has been trying to sneak some more Radio 2 friendly music past the six-stringed regime. “I wonder how Diana Ross would sound on Virgin Radio” he joked before treating us to some 1979 Motown disco in the welcome tones of The Boss. Even recent guest, Melanie C commented: “thank you for having me on – I know it’s not exactly the demographic of music that you tend to play on Virgin”.

Regular Norton listeners will be pining for a more varied music mix. Where are records by Alison Moyet? Harriet? Even S Club 7! It was lovely to hear Melanie C’s Ibiza-tinged single Into You but even that only got a spin because she was being interviewed. 

The show’s playlist seems even more grating on the new Sunday morning show. I mean I’m sure there is a time and a place for the strident tones of Florence and the Machine but 9.40am on a Sunday morning is definitely not it. Stentorian banshee caterwauling is not a welcome addition to the week’s laziest day.

Music quibbles aside, it’s a joy hearing Graham’s Sunday show take shape. First of all, Graham has turned up, which is a good thing. It must be hugely strange having broadcast on a Saturday only for ten years to suddenly double your workload and add a whole new show. In a recent interview, Graham addressed this development: ““I hope I show up. I was in the supermarket yesterday looking at avocados thinking, ‘Oh, that would be nice on Sunday morn… oh, no’”.

What is smart is that they are very much taking a suck-it-and-see approach to the features that are included and the vibe of the show. While it currently takes the Saturday as the blueprint for Sunday’s broadcast, I expect in six month’s time it will feel like a very different show. While Saturdays have an up-and-at-‘em feel with Lockdown-permitted activities planned, Sundays are more laid back and you want the show to ease you into the morning. 

The Recs hails Graham Norton on Virgin Radio a Huge Success!

Four shows in, and any fears about what could well have been a tricky move from the staid and traditional BBC Radio 2 to the edgier, riskier Virgin Radio, have been completely dispelled.

Graham Norton is still that warm, engaging, wry presence on the weekend radio that we know and love. In fact, freed of Auntie’s possibly autocratic yoke, Graham is like a broadcaster refreshed. Letting him drive his own show, Virgin has trusted Graham to deliver the kind of entertaining show he’s known for – and a considerable loyal audience finding the channel for the first time. 

Graham Norton’s two radio shows on Virgin is (almost) perfect weekend listening. A few more musical divas over the omnipresent Virgin jangly band staples on his playlist is the single tweak needed.

Listen to Graham Norton on Virgin Radio on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30am – 12:30pm