Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 09:07 UK

Recalling Radio 1's 'golden age'

By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The events of 1 September 1988 perhaps best sum up the glamour of Johnny Beerling's eight years as controller of BBC Radio 1.

Johnny Beerling, overlooking the BBC's Broadcasting House
Johnny Beerling has published his autobiography, The Inside Scene
After two decades on-air, the pop station was being given a full-time home on the FM band, and chart-topping trio Bros agreed to travel around the country that day, "switching on" the signal.

"We put them in a helicopter and started in Scotland, flying them round various transmitters," Beerling recalls.

"All the fans were screaming. At Pebble Mill in Birmingham they nearly pushed the glass doors in.

"It was wonderful. I loved every minute of it."

Beerling was in charge of Radio 1 in the days of Simon Mayo's breakfast crew and Bruno Brookes' Top 40 countdown.

But his time at the BBC began in 1957, after a spell as a radio fitter in the Army.

John Peel, Johnny Beerling and Simon Bates in 1979
Beerling (centre) oversaw DJs John Peel (left) and Simon Bates (right)
"They didn't have careers officers then, and no idea about exciting things like jobs in the media," he explains.

"Even to be a studio manager it was a requirement that you had a degree. But somebody took a chance on four or five of us who didn't and who all did rather well."

He worked behind the scenes, playing foreign correspondents' news reports at 78rpm on fragile acetate discs, and says it was a high-pressure environment.

"Once they allowed me to sit in the continuity studio. The chap made the announcement to introduce Mrs Dale's Diary and I was allowed to start the tape.

"I was so excited I rushed off to the toilet afterwards, only to find I was in the ladies - such was the nervous tension."

New start

Radio in the late 1950s was "laborious" and "stilted", Beerling says, with presenters reading from scripts typed up by secretaries.

Tony Blackburn in 1967
Tony Blackburn was a "pirate" DJ who came ashore to join the BBC
"There would be a full rehearsal; you would adjust the timings, have a 15-minute break for a light breakfast of orange juice and toast, then do the programme live."

But the arrival of Radio 1, documented in Beerling's new autobiography, heralded a major shake-up in style, more like the ad-libbed nature of "pirate" stations such as Radio Caroline.

"Of course we were very excited; I was thrilled to be married up with Tony Blackburn as his breakfast-show producer.

"He had very clear ideas of what he wanted. Rotate the top hits, the best oldies and one or two good new records, and - to be fair - an equal amount of promotion for him as well as Radio 1.

"It was pretty shrewd in that respect and Tony became very well-known."

Bros in 1989
Boy band Bros were signed up to switch on Radio 1's FM transmitters
Beerling invented the Radio 1 Roadshow, which toured beach resorts every summer, after seeing "people trotting off in the evening with little aluminium chairs" to an open-air stage while camping in France.

The DJs "loved" heading out to the seaside for a week a year, he says.

"Everybody had a whale of a time. Some problems came when we started to go to Northern Ireland.

"One or two of the DJs - no names, no pack-drill - refused to go because they were worried about the security. But nobody ever gave us any problems at all."

Cull of 'dinosaurs'

Radio 1 in the late 1980s and early 1990s was attracting massive audiences but commercial radio was strengthening, and BBC director-general John Birt was anxious Radio 1 received a major overhaul.

"I did change it quite considerably - but not enough for him," says Beerling, who retired in 1993.

"John Birt needed to have Radio 1 being different from commercial radio. But he couldn't perceive [there was a] difference.

Simon Mayo in 1988
Beerling appointed Simon Mayo as Radio 1's breakfast show host
"I was trying to tell him we were doing more concerts, news, social-action projects, live broadcasts, documentaries - but he didn't understand it.

"I was the wrong person to do it because I'd been there since the beginning. I was 54, 55 years old."

He says the subsequent cull of "dinosaurs" such as Dave Lee Travis was "the greatest gift to commercial radio" possible, as listeners "deserted in droves".

"Suddenly these disc jockeys had all gone.

"I wanted to run Radio 2 for a couple of years and take those older DJs with me. But I was told that would alienate the existing Radio 2 audience. I was a bit miffed and off I toddled.

"It took another 10 years until another controller - Jim Moir - came in and did exactly what I had set out in my proposals."

Beerling seems to have few regrets about his time as controller, however.

"People will always hark back to the golden days of Radio 1. I was glad I was running it. We had the best times; we really did."

Radio 1: The Inside Scene, from Trafford Publishing, is being sold only through Johnny Beerling's website.

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