On the Air .
This year, marks 50 years since BBC Radio One began broadcasting. At 7.00am on the 30th September 1967 a countdown by the controller of Radios One and Two, Robin Scott, launched the station. This was followed by a jingle — the first to be played on BBC Radio — which began with “The voice of Radio One”, then Tony Blackburn announced, “And good morning everyone. Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio One.” The first record he played was “Flowers in the Rain” by The Move.
Across the past five decades the station, which now broadcasts internationally as well as nationally, has brought its listeners popular music and chart hits throughout the day. The weekly countdown of the UK official singles chart has been a highlight for many listeners over the years.
In 1967 the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act was passed to outlaw pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London. In order to satisfy the demand for pop music, the BBC decided to create Radio One, while Radios Two, Three and Four replaced the Light Programme, the Third Programme and the Home Service respectively. Johnny Beerling was instrumental in establishing the station and became executive producer in 1972. He recruited disc jockeys and produced the first broadcast by Tony Blackburn.
Before Radio One, Tony Blackburn had worked on Radio Caroline and Radio London. It was his cheery voice that earned him a job — and the much- coveted role — as the first presenter on the new station’s Breakfast Show.
The line- up of staff also included John Peel, Ed Stewart, Alan Freeman, Pete Murray, Kenny Everett, Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan. Like Tony Blackburn, some of them came to work for Radio One from pirate radio.
Initially the new station was not as popular with its target audience as it was expected to be. Among the reasons for this was the fact that it shared airtime with its sister station Radio Two; it was also seen as part of the Establishment, which putoff some potential listeners, while “needle time” limited the amount of commercial music that could be played on the radio.
Needle time was created in Britain by the Musicians’ Union and Phonographic Performance Limited to restrict the amount of recorded music that could be broadcast within a 24- hour period. The BBC used to play “cover” versions of songs recorded at the BBC to fill the hours. Over the years the hours of commercially recorded music that could be played increased, but this restriction lasted until 1988. In contrast the pirate stations operated under no such restrictions. Radio One also had limited finances as the BBC licence fee had not increased to take into account the operation of the new station.
Gradually, though, these issues were overcome and listener numbers started to climb. Radio One soon established itself as one of the most listened to stations in the world, with the numbers of people tuning in reaching over 10 million.
Annie Nightingale who had previously worked at the BBC moved to Radio One and became the first female disc jockey. Her debut broadcast was a Sunday evening show, which aired on 5th October 1969, and she still broadcasts on the station today — its longestserving presenter — reflecting her willingness to adapt her musical tastes and embrace the music scene of successive generations.
In 1973 Johnny Beerling launched the Radio One Roadshow. This became a huge annual event, held every summer in towns and seaside resorts. It grew from a small caravan situated on Newquay beach, to a
show broadcast from an 80- foot mobile stage based on articulated lorries, alongside a huge outdoor screen. Numbers attending the event grew to approximately half a million. The last Roadshow took place at Heaton Park, Manchester, in 1999. The event was replaced by the Radio One Big Weekend, which travels to different locations around the country each year. The tickets for this are free making it the biggest free music festival in Europe.
Matthew Bannister, who took over from Johnny Beerling in October 1993, wanted to take the station back to its roots and make it more appealing to younger listeners. Although the station began with this intention, the original young listeners were now older. In January 1995 any music recorded before 1990 was banned from the daytime playlist.
The development of technology has had a positive effect on the radio including the launch of the station on DAB in 2002. It is now available on many different devices enabling people to listen wherever they are, at whatever time of day — or night. Sky, Virgin and Freeview all broadcast radio stations and social media followers can also access the radio on Twitter or Facebook. Times have certainly changed!
Radio One has developed immensely since its launch 50 years ago. Disc jockeys have come and gone, and the station has gone from strength to strength. From being available only at certain times in its early days, it now has 24- hour coverage in countless different ways.
As well as music, the station has regular news and current affairs reports throughout the day. Radio One is based in Broadcasting House, London, although it has regional centres around the country. Today, as it celebrates 50 years of broadcasting, Radio One is among the most popular stations; even royalty tune in as Prince William admitted when he and his wife, Catherine, spoke about the Heads Together charity on the Scott Mills Afternoon Show earlier this year. Happy 50th birthday, Radio One!
Tony Blackburn presenting the Breakfast Show on Radio One in 1967. Flowers in the Rain by The Move was the first record played.
The Radio Times cover announcing the station’s launch.