Just for you 

1 January 2005 tbs.pm/3203

The beginning of 2004 marked the 25th anniversary of Britain’s first 24-hour broadcasting station. Nearly a decade before 24-hour television became available in this country, BBC Radio 2 became, on January 27th 1979, the first network in Britain to go over to round the clock broadcasting.

Originally, 24-hour broadcasts were scheduled to start in November 1978, to coincide with the changes to BBC frequencies, but a dispute with BBC unions (see my earlier article on broadcasting unions, ‘Part of the Union’) saw the move delayed until January 1979. The transfer to 24-hour broadcasting also coincided with the end of the highly unpopular (for Radio 1 listeners) dual broadcasts between 7 and 10 pm, when Radio 1 carried Radio 2 programming. (Radio 1 broadcasts on Radio 2, such as the Top 20/40, ended in November 1978 when the 1500m LW wavelength was handed to Radio 4.)

Both networks, now freed from the restrictions of dual broadcasting, were given separate identities: Radio 1 was to cater for the pop and rock audience, while Radio 2 was to broadcast light MOR music, comedy, sport and musical features. The stations also gained separate controllers instead of sharing one (a legacy of the Light Programme era) thus reinforcing the idea that the stations were now separate entities.

Radio 2 has always had a loose interpretation of what can be classed as ‘light music’. Nowadays the former Light Programme plays a huge variety of music: listening recently I heard Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond one Saturday afternoon on the Richard Allison show, amongst a collection of adult pop songs by Dido, Coldplay and other contemporary artists. Switching on the station on a Sunday, I heard veteran broadcaster Desmond Carrington playing music from the forties. In essence, the current interpretation of ‘light music’ appears to be anything from show tunes (though this type of music is played far less on 2 than a decade ago), to moderately hard rock – current controller Lesley Douglas has admitted to being a huge Springsteen fan. In fact, one could argue that Radio 2 will play anything not played on Radio 1, 2 tending to leave dance, rap, nu-metal and punk to its younger rival.

A similarly loose definition of light music was evident in the David Hatch and Bryan Mariott era of Radio 2, though possibly not as broad as the current-day music policy. As Frances Line pointed out when she took over 2 in 1986 and implemented a rigid music policy that Matthew Bannister at Radio 1 in the 90s would have been proud of, Radio 2’s audience demographic was ’25 to dead’. In fact Radio 2 – because it covered live football in the eighties when this was very rare on television – did have quite a large younger audience on Saturday afternoons and weekday nights when a football match was being broadcast. While it was unlikely a 20-year-old football fan would have stayed tuned to ‘Listen to the Band’ after the footie had finished, in the Hatch era the station was not the no-go area for under 30s – or indeed under 40s – it became in the Line years.

Apart from the sport, Radio 2 in the early eighties, as has been pointed out by Robin Carmody in ‘Out of the Light’, did overlap considerably with Radio 1, and at times attracted a fairly large younger audience who wanted an alternative to the likes of Gary Davies and Steve Wright. (In fact a distinctly Radio 2 programme, ‘Sounds of Jazz’, was broadcast on Radio 1 until 1982 due to scheduling problems.) Both stations would quite merrily churn out the hits of the sixties: it was possible to hear a Beatles hit on the Golden Hour on Radio 1 and hear it half an hour later on Jimmy Young. Radio 1-type listeners who did not want to hear Mr Angry from Purley and Damian the Social Worker could always find a suitable alternative to Steve Wright in the shape of David Hamilton.

Hamilton, who had the privilege of having his Radio 1 show broadcast on both networks from 1975 to 1977, was the least ‘pipe and slippers’ of the Radio 2 DJs in the first half of the eighties. I can remember on a three-hour car journey in 1983 my parents, not to mention myself, becoming increasingly bored with Steve Wright’s incessant yakking and unfunny characters and switching to David Hamilton on Radio 2. With the benefit of stereo FM, something to which Radio 1 had no access during daytime, David Hamilton was the station’s biggest attraction at the time. The show had a good range of contemporary music – Madness did the jingles, which gave it some credibility – including Duran Duran, Ultravox, and ironically a record that Radio 1 was very nervous about in 1976, Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby. Hamilton, who also employed ex-Radio 1 DJ Paul Burnett as a stand in, was as close to Radio 1 as Radio 2 could get.

While Radio 2 was not simply a slightly more mature Radio 1 in the Hatch and Marriott years – its night time and Sunday offerings were still very much of the Light Programme era – it wasn’t the Radio Quiet it became in latter years. Wogan enjoyed a huge following, not just among older listeners, while Steve Jones, now half forgotten, was of a similar musical outlook to David Hamilton at lunchtimes. In 1982, the station even took on Kenny Everett on Saturday mornings to present a show that was very similar to the one he presented on Radio 1 in the sixties. At the time, as a teenager, it wasn’t too much of a crime to admit to liking Radio 2 as long as you didn’t listen to it on Sunday or at night and still knew what was in the Top 40.

Yet the overlap with Radio 1 was causing consternation at the BBC. The departure of Terry Wogan in December 1984 marked the end of an era at Radio 2, very much as did DLT walking out of Radio 1 in 1993. Radio 2, like Radio 1 in the nineties, was not distinctive enough. As Robin Carmody has pointed out in his ‘Out of the Light’ articles, Radio 2 was offending its traditional Light Programme listeners who did not want contemporary pop. Wogan’s replacements Ken Bruce and especially Derek Jameson, who was in his fifties, were not too keen on contemporary music. Steve Jones left the station in 1985 and the greater prominence given to David Jacobs on weekdays suggested that Radio 2 was moving away from contemporary trends. After all, Radio 1 covered most pop music from the fifties onwards, so why should Radio 2?

Under Frances Line, Radio 2 developed a clearly distinct music policy from Radio 1, which eagerly took on younger listeners from Radio 2 and bolstered its position as the nation’s favourite music station. David Hamilton, the most ‘Radio 1’ of 2’s presenters angrily walked out of the station in 1986, referring to the station as ‘geriatric’, and complaining that ‘there’s only so much Max Bygraves and Vera Lynn you can play’ – though the ultimate irony is that he now plays on Saga Radio the kind of music he railed against in the eighties. (One of his replacements for two weeks was Hughie Green, in his last major broadcasting role, playing a distinctly antediluvian set of records from the forties.) Radio 1 became the nation’s principal pop station, playing everything from Elvis to Enya, while Radio 2 became obsessed with ‘melody, familiarity and excellence’ under Line. David Jacobs was given a far higher profile at the station, presenting a lunchtime show playing ‘our kind of music’ – essentially show tunes and fifties crooners. Fine for people who were born before rock and roll, but irrelevant for most of the rest of the population.

Radio 2’s audiences went into nosedive. I can remember in 1987 listening to the station in my parents’ house and having to endure a particularly awful set of records that included a hopeless MOR version of the Beatles Blackbird, George Formby’s Mr Woo and the theme from The Sky at Night. ( Sibelius’s At the Castle Gate, surely something that belonged on Radio 3.) And this programme was called ‘Love in the Afternoon’, hosted by Adrian Love, a former Radio 1 presenter. Even Steve Wright had to be better than this.

The Line years saw Radio 2 suffer the kind of audience collapse that Radio 1 would endure in the mid-nineties. From a respectable 14 million listeners in 1985, audience figures fell to 9 million by 1990. The transfer of sport to Radio 5 in 1990 killed what remained of the younger audience.

While Radio 1 took some of Radio 2’s listeners, the big killer for 2 was the rise of the so-called ‘Gold’ stations. Changes in ILR in 1988-89 saw ILR stations give their FM frequencies over to contemporary pop, while the AM frequencies played fifties and sixties pop hits. As Radio 2 under Line had largely given up on even this kind of music, the Gold stations flourished. David Hamilton, who by 1991 was working for Gold radio, told the Daily Mail that Radio 2’s obsession with the older audience and a dislike of most pop music had seen Gold stations take 40 per cent of 2’s audience. The opening of Melody Radio in London in 1990, playing ‘Radio 2 type’ music, bit even further into the station’s ratings, while Classic FM nibbled at the light classical music audience that Radio 2 had taken from Radio 3, which had moved towards more serious classical music in the nineties

It was no wonder that Radio 2, ten years previously not far behind Radio 1 in the ratings and playing anything from Madness to Mantovani, had become, by 1993, a slowly-dying network featuring music from before 1960, played by antique presenters like Charlie Chester – who started broadcasting for the BBC during the war – and presenters who appealed to the over 60s such as Alan Titchmarsh. When Dave Lee Travis famously walked out of Radio 1 in September 1993, he even asked Frances Line if she was willing to take on his weekend show, which would have given Radio 2 a massive audience and credibility boost. DLT was given a resounding no. It was no surprise that Radio 2, due to the age and tastes of its audience and presenters, became referred to as ‘Radio Grim Reaper’ or ‘Radio Quiet’.

With Radio 1 moving towards the youth market under Matthew Bannister, BBC Radio was ignoring a huge part of the audience demographic. Ten years ago, the audience born between 1940 and 1970 – the kind of people who appreciated pop and rock from the sixties to the eighties – was largely ignored by the BBC, unless you preferred speech radio or classical music. In West Cumbria, which had no ILR station until 1995, the choice of Radio Grim Reaper or the new-music Radio 1 saw the people in the 25-45 age group abandon the BBC en masse. Virgin 1215, which played adult rock – though its bad reception limited audiences – and, possibly out of desperation, ‘it’s your long wave Atlantic 252’ became the favoured radio choices locally for baby boomer music fans. When the local ILR station CFM finally opened in September 1995, it recognised the huge gap between Radio 1 and 2 and played the kind of music the BBC was rejecting – such as seventies and eighties hits, moderately hard rock and light pop – and saw its audience reach hit a staggering 50 per cent.

At the national level, the huge gap between Radios 1 and 2 had not been unnoticed. DLT frequently mentioned the need to create a ‘Radio One and a Half’, a kind of halfway house between the two stations. In an interview with the Sunday Times in August 1993, Tommy Vance and Richard Skinner, who had left Radio 1 to join Virgin 1215, criticised the BBC for abandoning the 25-45 age group. ‘For too long, Radios 1 and 2 have been laws unto themselves and that, ultimately, is a disservice to the licence payer,’ said Vance, while Skinner attacked the BBC for ‘abdicating the heartland.’

Whatever else John Birt will be remembered for, one of his few achievements in the nineties was saving Radio 2 from falling into what Robin Carmody calls ‘timewarp and irrelevance’. The audience for show tunes and forties music was steadily dying off, just as Radio 2 abandoned a show in the seventies hosted by Alan Keith that featured Edwardian music because most of the audience for that music had died out. If Radio 2 was to persist with its current music policy, it was possible it could have no listeners left within 15 years.

When Frances Line stepped down as controller in February 1996, her replacement, Jim Moir, was desperate to modernise the station and win back listeners. The reappointment of Terry Wogan in 1994 as breakfast show host, with the ‘Wogan’s other listener found on a beach’ advertising campaign, was the sign that the BBC knew, firstly, that they needed a popular breakfast show host (former obnoxious talk-show presenter Brian Hayes had not been a success) and, secondly, that Radio 2 audiences had become minimal. 3 million was a typical figure for the breakfast show under Hayes.

Moir decided to act fast to save the station.

It was not so much a case of the presentation being bad – Wogan, Ken Bruce and Jimmy Young were still highly-regarded professionals, and the specialist presenters such as Desmond Carrington were experts in their fields – but the music that was being played that put millions of listeners off the station. Moir decided to phase out the Line music policy in favour of sixties and seventies pop hits and MOR pop acts such as Celine Dion. The hiring of Steve Wright in April 1997, coupled with a huge advertising campaign to promote the station’s new look (otherwise many people may have thought Wright would be playing Bing Crosby records) saw audiences rise. By the summer of 1997, Radio 2’s ratings overtook those of Radio 1 – which was going through an obsession with indie music that was costing it listeners – and audiences passed the ten million mark.

Listeners fed up with Radio 1 and ILR now had a valid alternative with Radio 2. As Radio 1 moved from indie towards dance and pop at the end of the nineties, guitar-friendly DJs such as Stuart Maconie moved over to the station, which was keen to play contemporary guitar music as well as modern MOR. The appointment of Jonathan Ross to host the Saturday morning show, along with seventies musicians such as Suzi Quatro to host specialist music shows, proved that Radio 2 now wanted to be seen as a ‘thirtysomething’ network. Radio 2 listeners were often described as ‘ageing groovers’ in the press rather than retaining the ‘granny in the rocking chair’ image of the early nineties.

Fast-forward to 2004, and Jim Moir has recently retired as controller, to be replaced by Lesley Douglas, a Springsteen-loving 40-year-old who is quite possibly a stereotypical Radio 2 listener. The station now attracts 13 million listeners a week, a similar figure to that during the ‘Radio One and a Half’ era, and the Terry Wogan breakfast show attracts 7.6 million listeners, two million more than Radio 1. The new-look Radio 2 is unique in that it is the only radio station, to my knowledge, in Europe that can combine contemporary pop music with forties vaudeville, comedy, religious programmes, music documentaries and interviews with politicians on a lunchtime music show. It is no surprise the quality of the presentation and the range of programming has seen the former ‘Radio Quiet’ win three Sony Awards in five years. On a long journey, given the choice of the frantic behaviour of Mark and Lard on 1 or Jeremy Vine interviewing Tony Blair between Coldplay and Dire Straits, I would choose Jeremy Vine every time. Ten years ago I would have either persisted with Radio 1 or pressed the auto seek on the car radio to find an ILR station; Alan Titchmarsh discussing gardening tips with Katie Boyle was not an alternative.

While the new Radio 2 has generally been seen as a huge success, it does have its critics. Jonathan Bufton, in a recent Transdiffusion article, suggested that the new generation of Radio 2 DJs were suffering from an ego problem similar to that at Radio 1. Steve Wright is often seen as an egotist – though this is hardly new, as his Radio 1 show suffered the same criticisms. The retirement of Jimmy Young in 2002 has led to comments from Sir Jimmy that he was forced out because of his age, and there was a campaign led by the Daily Mail to save this much-loved and dedicated presenter from his forced retirement.

Similarly, the traditional Radio 2 listeners have felt short-changed by the Moir years. The older Radio 2 listeners, while now dying off, are probably not pleased to have to endure Pink Floyd on a Saturday afternoon instead of Bing Crosby. The recent death of Cliff Adams has seen the demise of the long running ‘Sing Something Simple’, and one often wonders what will happen to shows hosted by Desmond Carrington or Richard Baker when they decide to retire. One personal grouse I have with Radio 2 is the reduction in light classical music programmes. ‘Glamorous Nights’ has long since departed; Parkinson playing jazz has replaced ‘Melodies for You’; and ‘Your Hundred Best Tunes’ has been cut back. With Radio 3 concentrating on the more serious classics, the BBC has largely abandoned the popular classics to Classic FM.

However, these are minor gripes. Obviously the music championed by the station ten years ago has a declining fan base, though Radio 2 on a Sunday does at least give its older audience a hearing, unlike Radio 1 which has abandoned its older audience altogether. Radio 2 has certainly changed for the better under Jim Moir and it would be interesting to see how it fares under Lesley Douglas. Already there are rumours that Mark Radcliffe is planning to leave Radio 1, and his taste in music would be ideally suited to Radio 2, though like Steve Wright his manic presentation style would have to change. Similarly, Simon Mayo has made an effortless transition to Radio 5 Live. Maybe in a few years time, replacing Richard Baker on a Sunday night could be Dave Pearce’s Classic Dance Anthems, with Pearce minus cap playing The Shamen to nostalgic ravers. I kid you not: Radio 2 has recently had features on Britpop and Madchester, so classic dance cannot be too far away. Watch this space..

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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2 responses to this article

Andrew Swift 22 June 2015 at 1:06 am

BBC R1 took its own programming between 7-10 weekdays for the first time on 13th November 1978, eleven years and six weeks after it opened.

Andrew Swift 22 June 2015 at 1:11 am

Good article Glenn but I must correct you on one point: Sounds of Jazz continued on BBC R1 until the end of 1983.

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