Capital must unveil a new champion if Tarrant is to retire

On a glorious June evening in Memphis, Lennox Lewis floored Mike Tyson to win the biggest fight in heavyweight boxing history. The question was, where next for Lennox? Surely, as a man in his mid-30s and on the very top of the world with nothing left to prove, he would retire, writes Ian Darby.

We're still waiting to hear, but boxers, more than any other sportsmen, never know when to call it quits. Just one more fight. One more payday.

Chris Tarrant took the decision to remain at Capital Radio last week. Just one more year. Just one more payday.

It's tempting to say that Tarrant doesn't know when to quit. Like Lewis, he'll have had dozens of hangers-on and parties with vested interests whispering in his ear to continue. It's easy to see what's in it for him (more millions) and even easier to see what Capital gains.

The radio group's share price leapt 7% on news that Tarrant was staying. Analysts estimate that 15% of Capital's revenues hang on Tarrant's show and though it posted slightly improved ad revenues, up 2% for the six months to 30 September, it needs all the income it can get.

Capital's chief executive, David Mansfield, has played a blinder in persuading Tarrant to stay beyond the date when the new communications bill will pave the way for consolidation. A Capital with Tarrant will, in the view of the City and shareholders, be a much stronger proposition, commanding a higher premium from potential stalking horses, and a stronger market leader if Capital goes on the warpath.

Significantly, Capital has yet to announce the new format of Tarrant's breakfast show or whether he will remain in the seat for five days or reduce his commitments. Whatever happens, concerns surround his ability to attract and keep younger listeners.

Regardless of the details, Tarrant's decision merely papers over the cracks. If Capital had a viable alternative to Tarrant it would have turned to them by now. Where is its depth of talent? Why, across its 19 stations, does it have nobody even half-way decent to fill Tarrant's shoes?

Even if it does, nobody can replace one of the legends of commercial radio overnight. When Tarrant was hired to host the Breakfast Show in 1987 he was given at least two years to prove himself by Capital.

Its bravery and faith was rewarded, but it is doubtful whether media agencies, advertisers and shareholders would now stand for an experimental period where advertising revenues and ratings fall. Capital's understandable but risk-averse strategy is a crying shame and will result in advertisers and listeners losing out when Tarrant does eventually leave.

The problem with having an ageing champion clinging to the ropes is that it prevents progress. Just ask the next few average fighters who Lewis puts on the canvas before they've had a chance to develop their art.

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