Since reading Phill Jupitus’ book about broadcasting and radio, it’s started me musing about what it is I enjoy about radio. And I’ve realised that I enjoy radio right now more than I’ve ever done in my life. So come with me, if you will, as I journey down a road of radio remembrance.
My first radio memories are of Tony Blackburn on a Saturday morning with Arnold the dog.
Radio 1 featured large in our house for many years, I grew up with the jingles of Radio 1. A vivid memory is of the large wireless we had at home that sat on the kitchen window sill, it was larger than a laptop is today. It had huge black buttons along the top and a black dial on the front. It was black and silver and it was always on at breakfast. Every time I hear Dean Friedman’s Lucky Stars I’m right back at the kitchen table with my brothers, eating porridge on a dark winter’s morning before we headed out to walk to school, the radio playing its soundtrack to my life. Of course, I didn’t realise that then, I just thought it was a really annoying song.
Radio 1 continued to be a huge part of my life. Tuesday lunchtimes at school we all gather around someone’s transistor to listen to the charts. And Sunday evenings would see me in front of the radio with my cassette player and microphone, fingers on the ‘record’ and ‘pause’ keys to get the top 10 onto tape.
My first foray away from listening to pop music on the radio was around Christmas one year. My mam would buy the Radio Times and the TV Times (you had to buy both, in those days) to see what was on the telly at Christmas. As the Radio Times included radio listings I remember the thrill of finding a play or a story, poetry or an interview in the listings and I’d curl up in bed listening to the radio from my stereo (purple dials and grey buttons) my parents bought me for my birthday one year. This must have also been my first time away from Radio 1 although I can’t remember what channels I listened to then, but I do remember turning the big purple dial, slowly backwards and slowly forwards, to see what else I could find in amongst the hiss and the fuzz.
Being aware of other radio stations didn’t mean I was ready to give up pop and I spent many hours listening (hey, I was young, don’t blame me too much) to behemoth DJs – the likes of Mike Read, Bruno Brookes, Noel Edmonds, Dave Lee Travis. It’s not so much that I enjoyed listening to them, I just didn’t know there was any other choice. I wasn’t cool or old enough to know about Radio Caroline and much as I can appreciate now why John Peel was so popular, I never listened to his show back then.
Local commercial radio came into my life around this stage and we had Metro FM, broadcasting from Newcastle. I remember winning an Elaine Paige LP (not that I wanted it, but that’s what they sent me) after I had a poem about a snowman read out on air. I became a huge fan of Alan Robson’s Nightowls, curling up in bed listening to the show every single night, falling asleep leaving the radio talking to itself.
And I also won a VIP pass to see Dire Straits when they played Newcastle City Hall. I had to collect the tickets from the Dire Straits tour bus, where a certain Mr Knopfler would hand the tickets personally to me. Now then, I have no idea why I entered this competition as I was not, and have never been, a Dire Straits fan and I was embarrassed to have won such a prize which any fan would have given their right arm for. So I gave the prize to my friend Steven, who lived next door and was a fan of the band and he took his girlfriend to the gig. She had to pick up the tickets from Mark Knopfler and pretend to be me. Apparently, it was a great night and the seats were centre, front row.
With the shake up of Radio 1, I started listening to Radio 2, enjoying Terry Wogan and Steve Wright. My radio listening didn’t vary too much, it was either Radio 1, 2 or Metro FM.
And then I went to live in America.
I spent three years in Southern California where my station of choice was The World Famous KROQ 106.7FM. My favourite station, they played a lot of English, indie rock and pop stuff, that stopped me from getting too home-sick. However, after a few months of listening to any American radio station, the far too frequent breaks for ads played havoc with my head.
Back in the UK and after a few years I move to London where my radio listening is expanded. Who knew there was a Radio 4? My lovely man and I would change channels for each other as part of our morning routine. I’d be downstairs eating breakfast waking up to Wogan and he’d been showering and shuffling around upstairs to Radio 4. We’d swap floors and radio stations so that Wogan was up upstairs and Radio 4 downstairs and we’d both be happy as Larry.
I still listen to Radio 4 although there are times I get angry with it in the same way I do with the Guardian at times. It is too middle class, no matter how much they try to deny it. I enjoy the Book at Bedtime on Radio 4 and once tuned in to listen not because I knew the book or wanted the story, just because David Soul was narrating. The book he was reading was The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle, an author I’d never heard of. But by the end of the week and the end of the book, I was hooked, went out to buy the novel and have now read all of TC Boyle’s books. I keep hoping another author will catch my ear in that way again, but so far none have.
Robert Elms has become important to my radio world since moving to live in London too. He loves the city as much as he loves radio and it comes through loudly and clearly. But as Robert’s only on the wireless on weekdays I don’t get to listen to him much.
And now, well, BBC 6 Music is my station of choice. What’s not to like? The music is great and the presenters, on the whole, are damn good. Lauren Laverne is ace – she’s from Sunderland you know – but again, as she’s only on during the weekday I can’t get to listen to her as much as I’d like. I love the weekends on 6 Music when people like Huey from Fun Lovin’ Criminals ooze down the airwaves. I’ve discovered a love of soul and funk with Craig Charles and my favourite is Liz Kershaw on a Saturday afternoon but I do wish she hadn’t been part of the mess that BBC 6 Music got itself into.
And so, if you love radio and you fancy a good read, I can again recommend Phill Jupitus’ book.