Tony Blackburn is a radio DJ who has been there all my life.
I actually remember him on the offshore radio station Radio London (‘Big L’). I listened to him when in my solitude I discovered the companion that radio, and especially offshore radio, can be. My family kept moving around and I had no roots as a kid, so when arriving from South Wales to an area just outside of Brighton I spend a lot of time with ‘radio’. There was something about Tony Blackburn that made me smile. It wasn’t the music, dominated as it seemed by awful Bert Kaempfert records, but the fact that Tony, along with others, seemed fun and aspirational.
The next time I found him I was getting older and things were making more sense. He was the breakfast show on BBC Radio 1 and everybody I knew listened. There really wasn’t any alternative. This way he soundtracked my last years at school and those scary teenage years.
As a confirmed radio anorak, I used to love listening and guessing about his technical abilities as the jingles, the backing music, the records all seamlessly came and went around his cheerful and chirpy voice. Ok, maybe it was all a bit cheesy, but it didn’t seem so at the time. It was fun.
As the years rolled by I recall listening to him as he moved off the breakfast show and appeared on different day parts for BBC Radio 1. He still sounded great, although when he was trapped on Junior Choice he lost his sparkle. We later learned that was probably because he hated it.
BBC Radio 1 has always been my default station, and I’d usually find Tony Blackburn somewhere during my early 20s, although there was a time in its early version when I was a devoted Capital Radio listener, leaving BBC Radio 1 for a while.
Living in London, the Thatcher years seemed to be fun, or maybe it was my age. Soul music was everywhere. I left my 20s and entered my 30s with some of the best radio ever. Tony took over the mid-morning show on BBC Radio London.
In a recent interview for the Radio Academy podcast (here) he said how these were his favourite years. He’s right. It fitted the time and the atmosphere of the mid-1980s, and his show was playing the wonderful fresh music of the day, whilst he was flirting with mainly female callers inbetween the songs. The near the knuckle banter, usually about his 12 inchers, was harmless but hilarious with almost everybody ‘getting it’ and able to join in. It was laugh out loud radio. It worked because it was Tony Blackburn.
I was extremely sad when the powers that be killed off the highly popular BBC Radio London and replaced it with what was to be the start of the soundtrack of the dirge years, Greater London Radio. Tony disappeared from my radar over to Capital Gold.
I find it hard to listen to oldies. Even harder to listen to the same 300 oldies that gold stations play over and over and over again, so I couldn’t listen to Capital Gold.
Unfortunately, Tony entered a period of time with oldies radio stations and generally my entertainment from him was limited to his appearances on various shows on TV, but I never thought badly of him. I did ‘sample’ his radio shows now and again, and he was great even though the music was shite.
When he appeared on the first ever I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here I was hooked. He da man, and he won! Good for him.
The next most impressive thing that Tony did was to completely ‘get’ and embrace social media. I saw him experiment with places that came and went and then settle down with Twitter and Facebook. He understands how to use it, and provides truly entertaining ‘broadcasts’ as well as cross promotions for the various radio shows he’s presenting. From this I dipped in and listened to his Smooth Radio breakfast shows. Again oldies weren’t my thing, but since he was choosing the music it was more tolerable than the usual automated playout.
Getting Pick of the Pops on BBC Radio 2 was perfect for him. Not so for me and my hatred of oldies, considering it is a specialist oldies show! Why he wasn’t part of BBC Radio 2 much earlier makes no sense. I hope he will migrate to doing other bits on BBC Radio 2 in due course. He’s doing a talk and music show every Friday on BBC Radio Berkshire and showing how he’s perfectly capable of producing less disc-jockeying and more ‘presenting’ as a format.
Listening to him discussing his love for radio on the Radio Academy podcast (here) I was struck by two things. Firstly, his voice doesn’t sound ‘old’ despite him having just turned 70. Secondly, he really does understand the whole medium and how to communicate. He knows why commercial radio is losing listeners. He knows how to fix it. It’s simple: Copy the BBC, which isn’t losing listeners.
Considering his legacy, why hasn’t Tony Blackburn been given any form of official recognition, like an OBE or even a Knighthood? I’m being serious. Lesser radio people such as Johnnie Walker have been given MBEs despite criminal convictions for their cocaine use. Tony’s contribution to broadcasting far outshines most others.
It’s about time we honoured Tony Blackburn for his life and his contribution to radio broadcasting, not to mention his contribution to my life.