In this article I want to think about pop stars turning into radio presenters, and about old DJs (where exactly do they go?), and about some of the simple things in life such as children’s radio. Frankly, anything to take the mind off the pandemic must be good.
So, children’s radio in Britain was one of the first targeted shows to be launched by the BBC. They were initially a series of short programmes aimed directly at the young ones whose mums and dads could afford a valve radio (often, in those days, powered by lead-acid batteries if your house wasn’t yet connected to the mains. Lead, acid, and children. The health and safety people would’ve had a field day). That quickly became “Listen with Mother”, a gendered assumption of the times. In these early radio shows, the BBC’s newsreaders and announcers worked double shifts, adopting the moniker ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, in order to sound more endearing to the toddlers listening.
So, the former head of publicity at the Marconi Company, Arthur Burrows, who became the BBC’s first newsreader, did turns on children’s shows calling himself Uncle Arthur. Similarly, Derek McCulloch, a BBC producer and announcer doubled as ‘Uncle Mac’.
This was back in the years between the two world wars, when radio was busy inventing itself. These days, of course, children’s continuity presenters never get to read the news – simply because they’re not journos and they’re too busy wearing cotton winceyette onesies talking about Iggle Piggle (tune in to CBeebies at twenty-past six on weekday evenings if you want evidence). I think the BBC newsroom would look aghast if that happened. Even CBBC’s Newsround is staffed by journalists. Similarly, the Children’s department at Salford would be really uncomfortable if one of the BBC News Channel presenters fronted CBeebies. In a shirt and tie, presumably.
It was in 2009 when the last children’s radio show was heard on mainstream BBC radio. It was called Go for It and was a 30-minute broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at a quarter past seven on a Sunday evening. Slightly red-faced executives dropped it when audience figures suggested the average listener was a man in his early 50s. Hmm. Bit weird that.
An account of BBC children’s broadcasting – available via this link – skirts over the rich radio legacy and heads straight to the TV highlights. Radio for children still exists, but it’s tucked away in various corners of the web. So, for example, there’s CBeebies Radio at
https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/grownups/radio. Not quite sure why the landing page here has the word ‘grownups’ in the address, but never mind. Hope it’s not the same bloke in his 50s.
Companies House information says the firm was previously registered as Yorkshire Regional Radio Ltd.
Still on the subject of children’s programmes, there was recently one outstanding piece – which had sound woven into a modern-day cult-classic pre-school show. Hey Duggee is narrated by Alexander Armstrong, and this clip is in my opinion both delightful and truly creative.
You’ll be singing ‘Boots and Cats’ for the rest of the day, trust me. However, I’m a bit concerned that Duggee might be wearing the Huddersfield Town strip in this clip.
Which brings me on to two other unconnected things: where have all the DJs gone, and why are pop stars taking over radio shows?
In the last decade or so there’s been Iggy Pop on BBC 6Music, Bruce Springsteen on BBC Radio 2, Jarvis Cocker variously of BBC 6Music, Radio 4 and Radio France, and YUNGBLUD is working on a podcast with Radio 1.
Elsewhere, Nile Rodgers, has started a show on Apple Music 1. It’s called Deep, Hidden Meaning Radio and carries the subtitle, The Songwriters’ Show. Here’s a cringe-worthy preview interview, but which none-the-less sets the context.
And then, even though it’s not strictly radio – in fact it’s YouTube and Facebook which are of course both visual media – there’s the wacky world according to two pop stars from my younger days. Toyah Wilcox and Robert Fripp are, in my considered opinion, completely daft. Their social media posts are also wildly entertaining and very funny. That the genres of punk and prog rock can form such a long-lasting relationship is, I think, remarkable. They call themselves, pretty obviously, “Toyah and Fripp’s Sunday lunch”. Topics for discussion – if that’s the right word here – include whether girls can dance to King Crimson, and Fripp trying but failing to sing a love song to his wife. They’re all worth searching out. But this one is my favourite:
Meanwhile, my other question is: where did all the DJs from the 1970s, 80s and 90s go? People such as Mike Read, Emperor Rosko, David Hamilton, and David Jensen? The answer was to United DJs, which was a UK online radio serice which sadly closed after three years at the end of December 2020. The station, when it was operating, had a postal address in Slough – the town in Berkshire where the BBC TV mocumentary The Office was set. Is there a connection? No.
And finally, the radio anorak within me found this link recently. It’s a re-creation of the old BBC PPM meter (I make no guarantees of third-party sites or associated downloadable software, by the way).
Choose which version you want. PPM is a topic close to the heart of this website. You can read articles on the subject here, and here. Now you can have one on the desktop of your PC or laptop. Let me know what you think.
So, tell me of your radio obsessions during these pandemic days. Which shows have you been listening to? Is the post-first-lockdown Archers as good as the pre-COVID versions? Is Today the same now John Humphrys has been gone for more than a year? Add your comments in the box below.