BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 21 September 2007, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Happy happy sound
DJs in 1977

Radio 1 is turning 40. Looking back on previous eras might bring a fond smile, but may also make you feel your age. Dedicated fan and blogger Simon Hayes Budgen offers his own appreciation.

It's sometime between the alarm clock and the school run, and, on Radio 1, a portly bloke with some ill-considered facial hair is filling the large gaps between top 40 records with a mixture of in-jokes, insights into his fabulous life and the occasional shout-out to lorry drivers on the M62.

It's 1979, and the bath-robed, breakfasting nation is lapping up Dave Lee Travis in their millions.

How far Radio 1 has changed, eh?

One can find it easy to look back over the 40 years of the nation's favourite and, putting Tony Blackburn up against Bobby Friction, conclude that the current sassy young sound of Britain is built on foundations of the purest cheese.

In the 70s and early 80s, a day trip to North Wales or a family holiday in Skegness was often the best a teenager could hope for
It's an impression that memories the Radio 1 of the early 90s do little to counter. When the idea of refreshing the sound of the station was to rename Gary Davies' Bit In The Middle as Let's Do Lunch, it did seem Radio 1 had hopelessly lost touch.

Since the network has always had a remit to reflect popular music and cater to younger audiences, both of which are by their nature somewhat fickle, it's only right that most of the programmes and presenters from the station's history seem of their time. Being of its time is what Radio 1 is meant to be.

Audience connection

Take the Roadshow. In 2007, when programmes happily pack up and head off to trail round Ibiza and the European festival circuit, winning a goody bag from Mike Read on a windswept prom in Rhyl or Eastbourne might lose a little in comparison.

Queues form at Eastbourne for Radio 1 merchandise
Roadshows were once simple fun

But in the 70s and early 80s, a day trip to North Wales or a family holiday in Skegness was often the best a teenager could hope for. It's arguable if watching Steve Wright orchestrate a competition involving wet fish made the holiday better or a little worse, but as far as the 21st Century obsession of "connecting with audiences" goes, the Roadshow knew what it was up to.

Similarly, the charge that Radio 1 used to be a little staid is unfair. Some of the most extraordinary moments in broadcasting have come from between 275 and 285 metres on the medium wave band [the frequency before FM].

Chris Morris's beautifully drifting and twisted Blue Jam might have been tucked away in the small hours of the night, but he was also brought in to do much the same thing on a Christmas afternoon. To this day, I'm convinced that could only have been the result of an administrative error.

Chris Moyles
Now they are a slicker affair
Another Christmas, and the traditional "DJs pretend to like each other for an hour" of the Radio 1 presenter's lunch suddenly took place - for no good reason - in Grey Gables, the hotel in The Archers.

The paper-thin conceit that Steve Wright, John Peel and Simon Bates would gather to share their festive lunch was stretched further to ask the listener to accept they'd all driven 200 miles to the fictional village of Ambridge, and not minded Eddie Grundy trying to flog them used Christmas trees while they were broadcasting to the nation.

And yet this was the station which would include gay listeners' love stories as part of Simon Bates's venerable Our Tune slot, at a time when mainstream media was uncomfortable with homosexuality, outside the safe confines of documentary and current affairs.

Dave Lee Travis on the road in 1977
Dave Lee Travis famously resigned on air
Likewise, Bates's decision to pack up his mid-morning show and broadcast it live from Berlin as the wall fell might have resulted in confusion as to what the actual historical event was (the fall of communism v Radio 1 live from Germany), but it showed a network that had interests way beyond the Top 40 and the "England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales" of its jingles.

The station used to challenge itself in all sorts of interesting ways, though admittedly John Walters used to stretch the arts brief somewhat, by featuring unmade tuna sandwiches, what happens when a fox in heat ventures onto your lawn, and the peculiar nature of Riddlesdown. It seems odd that there's no similar programme at a time when Banksy, Lucas and Gormley have brought art ever closer to the heart of British culture.

Ukrainian folk songs

And maybe the time is right for comedy to return (and, yes, I have heard Scott Mills's prank phone calls). Nobody mourns the loss of Fun At One slot, dumping 10 minutes of The Glums or Round The Horne into the lunch breaks of a blameless nation, but the evening slots which gave The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Lee and Herring a starting platform are sadly missed.

John Peel
DJs like John Peel were a class apart from their peers
Even the stuff which the new Radio 1 is good at can struggle to better the past. Jo Whiley's Live Lounge, with its surprise covers, is something of which the network is proud.

But the "rock band does pop song/pop band does rock song" looks a little formulaic when set against the time indie janglers The Wedding Present turned up and delivered four folk songs - in the original Ukrainian - for John Peel, or Janice Long booked the Housemartins for a session and - in place of tracks from the latest album - got a collection of acapella gospel songs.

But I'm falling into the trap of trying to measure different eras against each other. It's a youth station, and part of getting older is tuning in to Radio 1 and feeling that - in the words of DLT's famous on-air resignation - changes are being made with which you cannot agree.

After all, if we weren't supposed to one day find that Radio 1 has become a bemusing and befuddling place to be, what would be the point of having Radio 2?

Simon Hayes Budgen lists his own Top 40 of Radio 1 highlights on his blog (see Related Internet Links, right).

Below is a selection of your comments.

I remember going to the Radio 1 Roadshow in Bournemouth with my sister. DTL was hosting and the weather was awful. We ended up doing the Can Can to Bad Manners in the sand and rain. Also DLT stayed behind after the show to sign autographs for everyone that wanted one. We had a great time.
Kathryn Little, Launceston, Cornwall

Don't forget why Radio 1 arrived; the off-shore pirate stations, notably Radios Caroline and London had such an impact on record sales as well as the BBC Light Programme's audience share that combined pressure from the BBC and record manufacturers bought about the Marine Offences bill of 1967 to force the pirates off the air. Apart from John Peel, no DJs survived the constraints imposed by the BBC, their shows were watered down and for many people in the south of the country who tuned into the pirates, Radio 1 was like comparing Arsenal to Brentford football clubs. It had political implications too. The late Hughie Green financed the Campaign for Free Radio, targeted at teens disappointed with the BBC's replacement of their pirate stations. In the 1970 general election, the Tory manifesto promised a feasibility study on derestricted broadcasting. Many teens aged 18 voted Tory on this single issue. Psephologists estimate 20 seats in the south went to the Tories on the strength of those votes. When Heath won, surprise, surprise, Hughie Green's consortium was put in a senior advisory role to the feasibility study.
Richard, London, UK

I'm just about to turn 26 and am finding much more to listen to on Radio 2 such as Russell Brand, and Dermot O'Leary's shows to stimulate my mind than on Radio 1 these days. However, there was nothing better than going to do your homework after tea and listening to Steve Lamaq's evening session and pogoing around the bedroom rather than revising maths and geography in the mid to late 90s. Is it wrong to be feeling old whilst still in your mid 20s?
Pip, London

From what my parents tell me, Radio 1 was a government response to "pirate stations" which were much cooler, dynamic and funny. Over the years Radio 1 has banned or censored most of the ground-breaking number ones (Relax, Sex Pistols etc). Its historic DJs have parried at every turn for how naff they were and the ones that were daring. It is a great station now, especially the live music, but all this relentless banging on about how they changed the world of music sounds like rewriting history.
Lucy Heather, London

I used to be a farmer & listened all day, every day in my tractor or milking parlour. I was mortified when DLT quit. I listened like a faithful church congregation to his great taste in music & unequalled humour. He was undoubtedly the finest DJ of all time & I especially remember the one-minute hysterics fit he had live when a listener made a comment on the phone. The worst presenter was Peter Powel. I especially remember the "he had it amputated" whisper in the background when he asked a phone-in listener how his injured leg was doing.
Dave B (Brit-ex pat), Keswick, Canada

Radio 1 started on the day I was bridesmaid to my cousin at her wedding. I was 18. My husband and I celebrate our 40th in June 1969. Radio 1 was great then with real pop music, not the talentless rubbish turned out today. It brings back many happy memories and it does make me feel a little bit old.
Jenny Hudson, Birmingham UK

Hurrah for Radio 1. Aural sewage for the tone deaf. Stultifying the musical taste of Britain for four decades. Forty years of lowering standards and still going strong. What a proud record.
Kant for King, London

I am 30 and love Radio 1. I was brought up on it through the 80s with DLT and Treble Top (snooker on the radio), Bruno Brookes and my local hairdresser always had Steve Wright on. Yes, it was a little cheesy but it was entertaining and popular. Times have changed and it now is supposed to appeal to younger listeners. It does it very well. But it's falling into the trap that Radio 1 suffered in the early 1990s in that the DJs are getting old. Jo Whiley, Tim Westwood and Pete Tong, although well respected and extremely entertaining are all in their 40s. Not very youthful.
Christopher Pope, Gosport, Hants

Just looking at the photo at the top is quite amusing. John Peel is desperately trying to ignore Simon Bates. David Hamilton looks like he should be on Radio 2, while the Cuban heels on Noel Edmonds' shoes are an attempt to give him some extra lift. Tony Blackburn has a great tan. And all wearing nice flares... Is that Adrian Juste right in the middle? And who's between Saville and Fluff? As for the station, it used to be a mass-market family affair with its niche markets targeted in programme slots. Now the whole emphasis seems to be on narrowcasting. Now Radio 2 seems to be doing R1's old job, and admirably as it happens.
Darren Stephens, Whitby, UK


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific