Ball is an engaging radio broadcaster, as proven by the fact that she still attracts 8.1 million weekly listeners to the show (each of them, we now know, effectively paying her 16p per year). Presenting a breakfast show is a high-pressure gig and requires confidence, reliability, star quality and endless energy. All of these are uncommon skills.
But I don’t think she’s the best radio presenter that the BBC employs, and I don’t even think she’s the best broadcaster on Radio 2. Ken Bruce, Liza Tarbuck and Sara Cox are all at least as good. Ken Bruce actually rivals Ball for the most popular show on Radio 2, with an audience of around 8.2 million listeners making his £385,000 salary look like a bargain by comparison.
Even if you love radio, it’s hard to crunch the numbers without feeling as though something is off. In March 2018, Ball cycled from Blackpool to Brighton in the “Hardest Ride Home” challenge to raise money for sport relief. She managed to raise £1,198,012 in donations from the public, which is a very impressive sum. Astronomical, to most of us. But to put it in the context of BBC salaries, if you were to take that figure out of her personal pay packet this year, there would still be more than £100k left over for her to spend.
It’s none of our business how Ball, or any BBC employee, chooses to spend their own money, but it is our business how licence fee payers’ money is divvied up at the BBC. For every salary increase or decrease recorded, a decision in the public interest has been made, and this gives us a sense of what our national broadcaster values most. With Zoe Ball’s salary, that isn’t entirely clear. How much more would they have paid her if she’d actually added listeners?