Simon Mayo, a veteran of Radios 1, 2 and 5 Live, had lasted just five months on a show the corporation had “reconfigured” to include a female co-presenter, Jo Whiley.
He was said earlier this month to be in talks with a rival, commercial broadcaster, but seemed to have been taken aback when he broke the news to his listeners.
“I’m as surprised at this turn of events as you,” he tweeted, adding that he thought he would be “dragged out aged 120” from the programme that has been his berth since he took it over from Chris Evans in 2010.
“But circumstances change,” he said in a further tweet, and that it had “become increasingly tricky” to juggle his radio work with a book deal he had signed.
Mayo, who turned 60 last month, said he would remain at the BBC for the weekly film show he co-hosts on Radio 5 Live with Mark Kermode, but hinted that “other radio adventures beckon”.
His departure from Radio 2, after 17 years on various strands of the station’s output, is the latest in a string of exits and changes across the BBC’s audio networks this year.
Evans announced last month that he was quitting after 13 years, and returning to Virgin Radio, for whom worked nearly 20 years ago. Zoe Ball will take over his breakfast show in December.
On Radio 4, Eddie Mair resigned from the PM programme he had hosted for 20 years, to join the commercial station, LBC. He presented his final show without revealing to listeners that he wasn’t coming back.
Radio 1’s breakfast show was taken over by Greg James, in a job swap with its former host, Nick Grimshaw in August. It was a move that lost a fifth of Grimshaw’s audience, according to listening figures.
The combination of Mayo and Whiley on Radio 2 has also struggled to attract listeners, with many complaining on social media that they preferred its former incarnation with him alone.
But although he was reported earlier to have been “furious” at being “lumbered” with a co-presenter, he denied suggestions of a rift and went in to bat for her yesterday, tweeting that the abuse to which she had been subjected on the platform was “appalling”, and adding: “I’ve loved working with the exceptional Jo Whiley and when the show was ‘reconfigured’ she was my first and only choice.”
She will host a new evening show in January from Mondays to Thursdays, while continuing to fill in for Ken Bruce whenever he is away.
She said: “I’m incredibly sad that Simon has decided to leave Radio 2. He’s a brilliant broadcaster, a great friend and I really will miss working with him.”
The pair’s departure leaves Sara Cox favourite to take over the early evening slot, with Claudia Winkleman, Graham Norton and Richard Madeley also touted as possible presenters of a potentially rebranded show.