Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Radio 1 at 50 - Part 2 The First Ten Years

If Radio 1 had a golden era it must surely be the first ten years of its existence. For the first five there was little or no commercial opposition and when ILR stations did roll out there were still vast tracts of the UK that had no choice but to tune in to 247 for their (daytime) pop music fix. All the DJs were household names and many popped up on TV too, were mobbed when they opened a local supermarket or filled the dance floor hosting down at the discotheque. 

By 1970 Tony Blackburn's morning show pulled in 4.45 million listeners, the JY Prog on both Radios 1 and 2 5.75m, Radio 1 Club 2.3m, Saturday's Junior Choice 7.9m, Rosko 2.78m, DLT's Sunday show 3.25m and Pick of the Pops 4.65m.

On 30 September 1977 Radio 1 celebrated its 10th anniversary and gained  a Radio Times cover. Inside Ray Connolly spoke to  a number of the DJs. Here are some extracts from those articles.  

Tony Blackburn

His views on popular music and the function of Radio 1 are disarmingly honest. He says: 'To me pop music is just a load of tuneful, memorable music. Every week about 70 new records are released, of which maybe one or two will be hits. You play the hits like mad for six or seven weeks until something else comes along to take their place, and then two or three years later you bring them out again as revived-45s.

I think people take popular music too seriously. At the moment everyone's talking about punk rock. That will probably last for another two weeks and then be replaced by something else. But all the time there are a number of good artists, not affected by the trends, who keep on turning out good records year after year.

I think my job is to be artistic in sound. I think I'm painting a portrait in sound. I'm also trying to entertain the audience. My show is what I call U-rated entertainment ... something which goes into the home and will not offend anyone at all.

If I were in charge of a popular music station I would rotate the same 30 records all day - the way they do at WABC in New York.

Anne Nightingale

Anne Nightingale, as the only woman disc-jockey on national radio, would appear to attract a slightly different kind of audience from her male colleagues. Her programme is all requests and, although she steers well clear of the obvious trap of running a musical problem corner, she does find that many of her requests concern's people's personal lives.

'It's really very difficult not to become involved and distressed sometimes by the letters we get,' she says.  For instance, I got a letter from a girl a couple of years ago who was dying of cancer. She wanted a certain record playing on a certain day because she thought it might be the last day she and her husband would have together. So I played the record, although I didn't explain over the air all the details of the request. Then I subsequently found out from the husband's sister that she has, in fact, died the day after my playing that record for her had made her last day very happy.

Many of Anne's listeners are students ('Leeds University is incredible'), but she feels she has to be careful not to give the programme an elitist style in case the young person from the comprehensive will be deterred from writing to her because of his lack of educational qualifications. (The fact that university students even write in to request programmes must surely illustrate just how far pop music and attitudes have changed in the past 15 years.)

Possibly because she has had a great deal of experience in journalism Anne proved to be the most critical of the disc-jockeys I spoke to of the way in which Radio 1 is organised: 'I feel that because the BBC is in this special position of not having to bother about ratings or attracting revenue from advertising it ought to be able to offer the best popular music radio station in the world. But because of things like finance and needle-time it has to compromise, with the result that it really is two separate stations - a Top 40 station during the day and an FM, more serious rock station late at night and over the weekends. What we need are two distinct stations, one for the teeny-boppers and another for people who want to listen to album tracks.  

Dave Lee Travis

No one can say that it isn't a responsible job, because it is. You can't go on a national radio station and just go off at any old tangent. Occasionally we get people in to talk about careers for young people, and I'm sure that because it's presented on Radio 1 instead of an another station, then we get the kids to take it more seriously.

But basically my function is to enlighten the listeners by guiding them towards new music which they might not have heard otherwise and, like any other disc-jockey or pop star, I'm there to amuse the listeners and be a friend in the home. You can't really do more because it isn't a political thing and it isn't your place to start discussing politics.
He feels that popular music has changed for the better during the last ten years and is sure that Radio 1 must take some of the credit for that.

'Punk rock is exciting and good for the entire business. Eighty per cent of it may be rubbish, but the other 20 per cent might be good. And I'm sure that out of punk rock will come some good, new and exciting bands.

Although he admits to having a very catholic taste in music, his very favourite piece of music is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

Alan Freeman

Because of his great age (half a century is a great age for someone in the ephemeral world of pop radio!) he has possibly the most objective view of both the public who listen to him and the station itself. He says of his listeners: 'In the past ten years the people who listen to music have grown up very quickly They really listen now. Music isn't just a background thing for them. They listen to it, they eat it, they sleep it and they even dream it. Possibly the music has become too intelligent and it might possibly have lost some of its fun, but there is so much good music around today it's absolutely fascinating.'

His audience is so widespread that he is secretly amazed. Some time ago he went to buy a raincoat and was surprised to hear the shop assistant (a man in his late 50s or early 60s) complimenting him upon his programme. Assuming that he was mistaken for someone else, he smiled and said 'thank you' only to find himself on the end of a very long dissertation on the art of Emmerson, Lake and Palmer. The elderly raincoat salesman was something of an expert on modern. serious rock music.  

Freeman sees Radio 1 as a great success story, but recognises that it will forever be the butt of the critics. 'You see, it was the successor to the pirates and so from its inception it was unglamorous because it wasn't illegal. And some of the disc-jockeys who had been pirates lost a bit of their glamour because they suddenly became legal and respectable.'

Kid Jensen

Radio 1's function is to reflect the trends and tastes in popular music, and to present new sounds. And I think it has done this very successfully over the last few years. A lot of people choose to ignore a lot of the work that Radio 1 has done in giving air-time to new directions in music.'

He is unhappy with the name 'disc-jockey', because he prefers to see himself as 'a broadcaster - a communicator. and perhaps a friend. I like to have a lot of fun on the radio,' he says. 'And often when I go on live gigs I feel rather like a politician, because, like a politician, a disc-jockey obviously has to be liked by people.'

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Radio Times, Wilfred D'Ath caught up with the Radio 1 Roadshow team in Plymouth.

On the Road

Brian Patten, the Roadshow's producer, joins me for drinks in the hotel lounge. he and the Roadshow team - a disc-jockey, a secretary, three sound engineers and a driver - are suffering a little from road-lag, having traversed Sandown, IOW, Bournemouth, Swanage, Weymouth, Exmouth and Torquay in the past seven days, and with St Austell, Falmouth, St Ives, Newquay, Bude, Ilfracombe, Minehead and Weston-super-Mare still ahead. And this is only the south-west leg of the operation.

We are joined by the week's DJ, Paul Burnett, a charming uxorious man (his wife Nicole and two children are travelling with him) in his middle 30s, surprisingly lacking in confidence for a big-time Radio 1 DJ. Unlike some of the other Roadshow jockeys - Dave Lee Travis, Ed Stewart, Kid Jensen, Noel Edmonds ad Tony Blackburn - who pull enormous audiences on the strength of their TV reputations, Burnett, a shy Geordie whose life's ambition it was to spin discs on Radio 1, is having to work against the grain a bit. One likes him all the more for it.

Next morning I wake at 6.30, breakfast early and make my way to the Roadshow site on the Hoe, right under the lighthouse. But the team has beaten me to it. The Radio 1 caravan is already being unpacked.

The Radio 1 Roadshow caravan is a tiny miracle of audio compactness. In a matter of minutes it unfolds itself into studio console, sound stage, control panel, two deafening loudspeakers, storage space for records and props, and, of course, a direct Post Office line to the Radio 1 continuity suite in London. There is even a huge blue bin for the audience's record dedications, which tend to be written on bananas, vodka bottle and teddy bears.  

By 8.30 this miracle has unfolded its brightly painted contents for all to see and a small crowd of (mostly local) teenagers is beginning to gather behind the steel barriers. There is one middle-aged man in a dark suit carrying an enormous transistor radio. A plump girl of 16, wearing a Radio 1 sweatshirt, has followed the show (with her mother!) all the way along the coast from Bournemouth and intends to stay with it till St Ives, at least. It is extremely hard to get her to explain why. She just like the feeling of being at the centre of the channel's ten million or so listeners for the day.

Shortly after ten, Burnett arrives to do his warm-up. he looks distinctly nervous. 'This is the worst part,' he tells me. 'If you don't get them during the warm-up, you don't get them at all.' Patten introduces him on stage and he launches into a routine of discs, corny gags and friendly insults directed at other Radio1 DJs.

The Radio 1 Roadshow slips effortlessly on to the air-waves at 11 am, returning to London at 11.30 am for the national news. Burnett announces this as 1.30 am and spends a little time kicking himself. But it's his worst fluff of the morning. Pop records, pre-selected in London from a short-list of 60, blare out into the sunshine. The audience cheers loudly whenever Plymouth is mentioned. The show comes alive, it seems to me, at 11.15, with a record called Hello Mary Lou by Oakie. there is an eruption of tiny pubescent hands clapping in time to it all over Plymouth Hoe. Everyone looks happy. One feels happy oneself. It is difficult to imagine Radio 1 promoting itself more colourfully.

At the back of the magazine Paul Gambaccini wrote about the changes in pop music over the first ten years.

Some pundits wondered if the neglect by Radio 1's daytime programmes could keep punk rock records out of the Top 20, but this kind of speculation is always ill-informed. The notorious playlist of about 40 records which, thanks to the music press, has become the most famous list since the Papal Index, only influences the programmes heard between 7.0 am and 4.30 pm Monday to Friday. Every other Radio 1 show has its own programming philosophy, and very major New Wave record has been aired, although God Save the Queen was quickly banned. Even this case proved the rule, because just as Je T'aime- Moi Non Plus survived a BBC ban and the renunciation of its own record company to become number one in 1969. The Sex Pistols got to number two in some charts despite the BBC and the big retailers who refused to stock the single.

On the other hand, it is by no means certain the Radio 1 airplay guarantees a Top 20 placing. Although he may run me down one night with a very fast-moving sports car for saying this, well over 50 per cent of the singles Noel Edmonds chooses as his Record of the Week never make the 20. If being played every morning for a week to an audience of several millions can't break a record, nothing can, and, in the case of most stiffs, nothing does. The Radio 1 playlist and the Top 20 are two different compilations. One is assembled by daytime producers who feel they know what their audience wants to hear, the other is tabulated by a bureau that adds up what record buyers have purchased.   

And finally John  Peel wrote about some of the trends in music and, not unexpectedly championed punk.

It is true that no station other than Radio 1 would sanction a programme such as that I introduce each night of the week. On this John Walters, my producer, and I present what we feel to be the very best of rock music, taking in also folk, reggae and whatever else seems relevant. We also play the Yesses and ELPs of this world, although with a disgraceful display of truculence from me, as part of our review function. The commercial stations dependent on wooing the largest (and most prosperous) of audiences have generally restricted their hesitant wanderings outside the Top 40 to picnicking in Framptonland.

John Walters and I, together with the producers responsible for Saturday's Alan Freeman and Kid Jensen programmes, have welcomed punk not only for its vigour and relevance, but because it has emerged as music of character in an increasingly characterless landscape. It does seem however that Radio 1, by generally ignoring even those punk records which have made the BBC charts, has missed a heaven-sent opportunity to re-establish credibility with a considerable potential audience which is growing up to believe that radio has little or no part in its life.

Although the current and undeniable force of punk may soon be blunted by exploitation and misunderstanding, media hostility and misrepresentation, the youthful punk audience believes, as we believed in 1967, that no real divide exists - nor will ever exist - between the musicians and their audience. Given the history of underground music over the past decade they should perhaps be a trifle less optimistic, as success must corrupt their heroes as surely as it corrupted the heroes of the past. In the meantime, it is enough to enjoy the music, reflecting that being condemned in the Sun and The Times alike will serve to strengthen rather than weaken their cause. 

To mark the station's decade on air Alan Freeman presented the documentary Radio 1 - The First Ten Years. Written by David Rider - he also wrote an accompanying book - it was broadcast on Sunday 2 October 1977. [This recording is the version repeated by Radio 4 Extra on 30 September 2017 -its taken from the 31 December 1977 repeat tape - but as certain sections were edited out for that repeat I have added these back in from an off-air medium wave recording, hence the edits are apparent] 

In the next Radio 1 at 50 blog post the fun-filled 1980s. 

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