I’d Rather Be Out On My Bike: Fifty Years Of Radio One

Radio 1 may be, for the most part, a helium balloon, and it is the sheer weight of what John Peel gave us that holds it in place. (Danny Jones)

Heart pounding… fingers poised over the pause and record buttons… trying to record the good stuff without the DJ’s bloody voice at the beginning and end. Sunday nights were Radio One nights – a time to hear new stuff and to find out what was Number One. And to decide I didn’t really get 10cc. The DJ was Tom Brown. Or Tom Browne. (I don’t want to look him up: he was a Godlike character who held The Knowledge, I don’t want to find out he was human.)

It turns out those Sunday nights were the second most-mentioned aspect of Radio One in Sad Paradise’s recent utterly-scientific, peer-reviewed, completely-representative Facebook research thing. The first? I’m sure you can guess.

“It was insincere, shallow and ginger. I only listened to Capital Radio.”

The Story Of Radio One: Version One.

For our generation (those born in the Sixties), Radio One’s emergence as a revolutionaryish, piratey, establishment/not-establishment voice of moany, disenfranchised, edgy youth was a quaint – and disputed – relic of the dim and distant past (anyone else hate Flowers In The Rain? Just me??) By the time we started listening – by the pre-punk early- and mid-Seventies –  what had started as a kind of rebellion had, as everything always does in popular music, become swallowed up by the money men and started clinging desperately onto the Status Quo. So we had no choice but to listen to a bunch of strange, iffy-haired, achingly uncool old men, each of whom had a compulsory official nickname, in a vain attempt to make them appeal to The Kids: Gary ‘Diddy’ Davies, Dave Lee ‘The Stewpot’ Travis, Peter ‘Creepy Smile’ Powell, Simon ‘Our Bloody Tune’ Bates, Jimmy ‘I Don’t Have To Come Up With One For Him, Surely?’ Savile etc etc.

For a few years, Radio One was utterly dominant musicwise, it and its dodgy older brother Top Of The Pops trying to (and often succeeding in) dictating what we heard and what we liked: until the arrival of Capital, we had little choice but to listen to it or ignore the radio completely and seek our edge and our succour in other ways. The old, old story – and the way I’d always seen it until the last week or so – is one of a double-headed monster. The uncool, middle-aged head: The Nicknames, Arnold the dog, rigid playlists, a superglued adherence to the safe, the squeaky-clean, the almost-Eurovision, the sexist, the edgeless, the cornerless, the vapid, the facile. The cool, young, questing head: John Peel, who was given carte blanche to play whatever he wanted – on Top Gear, then on his own show, where we willingly sat with him and waded through obscure Reading-based Einsturzende Neubauten wannabes to find the inevitable life-affirming gold. The Man tried to interfere, of course, particularly when punk came along, but Peel always got away with it. His passion and open-hearted/mindedness and wit and generosity led us, led our culture down whole new paths. No Peel = no Ramones, no Undertones, no Fall, no Kindergarten. Billy Bragg travelled up to the BBC and gave him a mushroom biryani when Peel mentioned on air he was hungry – and got his new record played in return… JP was Good to DLT’s Evil.


The Story Of Radio One. Version Two.

All the above, plus… as well as Peel, there was Alan Freeman and there was Tommy Vance and Paul Gambaccini and the wonderful Tony Blackburn and Anne Nightingale and Johnnie Walker: lovers of music (and lovers of the unfashionable AND the unpop) who balanced precariously on the tightrope between JP and DLT and who pushed so many of us in so many new directions. As ever, truth is more nuanced than story.


The Story Of Radio One. Version Three.

All of the above, plus… apparently, Radio One continued after 1982! Playing music! Having competitions! With DJs and stuff! And with Steve Wright, some new-fangled punky youngster! Who knew? By the time the New Romantics arrived, we’d given up caring, as long as Peel was still there. It doesn’t really matter what happened next…


With thanks to Carol Eccleston, Tim Giles, Elaine Collis, Karen Ertsaas, Miriam Dunn, Neil Hatswell, Andy Moore, Mark Seton, Delia Parker, Misha Mansoor, Ian Matthews, Miriam Bindman, Sam Burnett, Mary Dearth, Chris Waddell, Alasdair Blain, Ian Macmillan, Helen Balchin, Mitch Johnson. Only three of whom ever went to a Radio One Roadshow willingly. 

4 thoughts on “I’d Rather Be Out On My Bike: Fifty Years Of Radio One

  1. Enjoyed this! However – and I am ashamed to display this knowledge out loud – I think it was David Hamilton who was ‘Diddy’…

  2. Yes it was. This was a very funny read. Was Simon Dee a radio 1 DJ?

  3. It’s interesting that, whatever our view of Radio 1, its influence is undeniable. Whether it’s what it gave us directly, or where it took us in search of something different /better/more credible. If you’re of a certain generation, you place your musical interest against the scale that is Radio 1, because it either took your where you wanted to go, or else pointed you to where you might find that. Thanks for reminding us guys.