Dave Berry’s not fooling himself, he tells Radio Times. “I’ve got a tough job ahead of me. I’m taking over from a broadcasting behemoth — someone listeners woke up to for 12 years.”
The behemoth in question is Christian O’Connell, winner of no fewer than 11 Sony Radio Academy Awards who until last month was the jewel in Absolute Radio’s crown, his breakfast show pulling in more than 2 million listeners, placing him No 2 in the overall ratings for breakfast shows on commercial radio. Now O’Connell is set to establish a radio career in Melbourne, Australia.
“Christian leaving came as a bit of a shock,” Berry says. “But it meant that this fantastic national beakfast show was up for grabs, and what was very nice was that the people who came to me and invited me to take over did so very quickly and it was a huge honour to be asked.”
Not that Berry, 39, is a stranger to early mornings. He had just joined Absolute as the “hometime” host when O’Connell announced his departure, but for five years he had presented the breakfast show on Capital. His mix of cheeky humour and effortless style will doubtless serve him well when 6am strikes at Absolute.
Berry’s first show airs on Monday (4th June), and in his opening week he’s promising “a massive surprise, if we manage to pull it off – something that will make waves around the world”.
At Absolute, Berry has already secured interviews with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Jennifer Lawrence, Muse and Will Ferrell, as well as hosting the station’s exclusive gigs with Liam Gallagher and Rag‘n’Bone Man. The “massive surprise” will be worth listening out for.
“For me the listener is the key ingredient,” Berry says, “because that’s the kind of radio I’ve always really enjoyed making – ruffling the listeners’ hair and poking at their grey matter. I’m looking forward to getting to know them.”
Please, find it in your hearts to give The Dave Berry Breakfast Show a listen.
The process starts the previous afternoon. “Sitting around with the team coming up with the content is wonderful,” Berry says. “We start off with a blank sheet of paper. I’ve got complete artistic freedom, and that’s fantastic. But you know what, if something doesn’t work, that’s fine, we try something else.”
Live broadcasting is in Berry’s blood. He still loves to tell the story of the time he was doing live TV from a festival on the Isle of Wight, “and a bloke came up behind me and hit me over the head with a giant inflatable willy”.
Away from broadcasting, Berry has just got married, and as a south-east Londoner – he was born in Lewisham – he’s had a lifelong passion for Charlton Athletic. He is an ambassador for the club’s community trust and he says his proudest ever moment was leading out a team of legends at The Valley.
He’s written for numerous publications including having a column on Huffington Post but he’s wary of Twitter. “It seems to have become a very dark place,” he says.
ITV’s Through the Keyhole – with Berry memorably teaming up with Keith Lemon – is the TV he is best known for, but with its possibilities for instant rapport, it feels like radio is Berry’s true calling. “Stories from real life is what I like,” Berry says, “and at Absolute we’re all very much encouraged to be honest and open.
“It’s all about personal connection. Here we are in the digital age and yet radio is more popular than ever. I’ll do a requests-based show and people love it even though they’re all songs anyone can download if they want to. That says it all.”
“One of my favourite moments of radio ever was when I did a whole week of content around someone having a blocked hole in the back of their fridge. It’s about finding those small things and making them big.”
Dave Berry sounds ready to make it very big indeed.
The Dave Berry Breakfast show starts on Absolute Radio on Monday 4th June 6-10am