Have you ever given a thought to the role of the pop music disc jockey as he prattles away between the records? I doubt if it has ever crossed your mind, yet every day many millions of people use “music radio” as the soundtrack to their lives. It’s a fact that music radio is more popular than any other type of radio entertainment.
From 1985 to 1993 I was in charge of BBC Radio 1, the national pop and rock station covering the whole of the United Kingdom.
Prior to 1967 there were a number of illegal “pirate” radio stations broadcasting to the mainland from the high seas around the coastline of UK. Following the British Government’s closure of these pirates, the BBC reorganised its radio services and set up the first ever all day national popular music radio channel, BBC Radio 1.
In 1967, as a young producer, I was responsible for helping set up the station and produced the very first broadcast, the breakfast show, presented by star Disc Jockey Tony Blackburn. It was a very exciting day and one I will always remember. Not only was it a first for the BBC it was the first time American style radio jingles had ever been heard on the staid BBC airwaves and listeners were soon tuning in by the millions. Within a few months the station had over twenty million listeners a week.
Because we were operating a National service and needed to meet the fans all over the country, I devised the Radio 1 Roadshow, a travelling show broadcasting live from holiday resorts around the coast. Radio 1 listeners turned up in their thousands to see their DJ idols and participate in the fun and games and it was such a success that it ran for over 21 years. It was one of the BBC’s longest running outside broadcasts and only ended when it became a victim of its own success, the logistics of running such a huge show overwhelmed it.
The programme content wasn’t simply DJ’s chatting away all day. There was also a comprehensive news service, “Newsbeat”, and more people heard the news from this than any other BBC radio service. There were many broadcasts of live concerts by major rock artistes and a series of radio documentaries telling our listeners more about their favourite artists and their music. I personally set the style for these when I produced “The Beatles Story” a 14 hour series which was sold all over the world and translated in to Spanish from the original English.
In 1985 the BBC promoted me to Channel Controller which meant I was officially in charge of the whole station, it’s DJ’s, the staff and all the output.
The biggest project in my first year was to organise the broadcast coverage of “Live Aid”, a huge project dedicated to raising money for the relief of famine in Ethiopia. It was an enormous undertaking with live concerts from London and Philadelphia as well as supplementary support concerts in Germany, Yugoslavia, Holland, Japan, Austria and Russia and Radio 1 and its staff provided the sound that went around the world.
That was the start of my tenure in charge of the biggest pop music station in the world and it continued like that until 1993 when I retired to take a back seat and become a listener rather than a broadcaster. If you are a radio enthusiast and want to understand it all and find out what it was like to ride this rollercoaster of a radio station you’ll just have to take a cruise on one of today’s modern cruise liners and listen when I give one of my lectures on the subject.
It was a fascinating time and as I said at the beginning, please give a thought to the disc jockey and his efforts to entertain you on a daily basis. There’s a lot more to music radio than a person sitting in a room playing records. Who should know better than me? I was responsible for entertaining over 20 million listeners every week.