The last ever radio DJ?

Christopher England has listened to the radio, and he reckons that it's lost its voice

By Christopher England
Posted 26 July 2016, 9.12am edt
Steve Bowbrick

There are no more radio disc-jockeys in the United Kingdom. Except one. The final ever radio DJ on the air in the country is the legendary Tony Blackburn.

It’s so extremely sad that Tony is the very last one. Years ago there were loads. But, they’ve all gone. All gone.

I’m talking about a friendly person actually ‘presenting’ the songs that are being played on the radio, enthusing about them on a song by song basis, unobtrusively interacting with them, and telling listeners what they are playing, whilst keeping everything moving at an infectious pace.

Sounds really alien doesn’t it? But that’s how music radio used to sound. It’s why millions would listen. Listeners would make decisions on what records to go and buy, based on what the radio DJ was playing and saying.

Today’s music radio consists of the songs just playing out one after the other, with no radio DJ. Every three or four songs an ‘announcer’ will appear to say something, usually not bother to explain what songs were played or even acknowledge that any were actually played. This leaves the listener feeling remote and abandoned. It also reminds them that putting their iPod on shuffle is exactly the same as today’s version of music radio but without the adverts.

Why has music radio become like this?

Yeah, morning presenters and some drive presenters will play loads of songs back to back then stop everything for a wild and wacky side splittingly funny (NOT) feature, then return to more songs back to back. So there’s ‘something’ to listen for beyond the unannounced songs, I suppose. But tune in at any other time of day and it’s an extremely lonely experience just sitting there listening to disconnected song follow disconnected song.

I wondered if the radio DJ method of broadcasting didn’t fit with today’s song, and maybe only worked with songs from the last millennium. But, turning to Mr Blackburn, his Sunday show on KMFM plays a large amount of modern music, and he ‘radio DJs’ it all. So, there’s really no excuse.

Indeed, many years ago playing songs consisted of taking a physical record out of its sleeve, putting it on a turntable (record player), putting the stylus on it, finding the start of the song by listening to it before putting it on the air, then pressing a button to start it, when it had finished, taking the stylus off it, and putting the record back in its sleeve and filing it away. Whilst the first record was playing, a second record had to be given the same process on a second turntable. And so on.

Heck, back in the 1960s when the average record only lasted two-and-a-half minutes, this meant the radio DJ was doing a lot of physical work throughout an entire show. And at the same time he’d be speaking to his listeners, and even would have learned by heart when to stop speaking so as to not talk at the same time as the artist on the record was singing.

These days everything is on a playout computer. None of that having to physically cue the actual records. The playout computer even counts down to when the vocals start on the songs, so there’s no danger of actually ‘crashing’, plus there’s a whole set of information about the song on the screen, so need to have to know it off by heart.

Indeed, the radio DJ in the modern radio environment has all the time in the world to think about making the things he’s saying as brilliant as possible. No distractions from having to do all that physical ‘work’. But, nope, he just sits there saying absolutely nothing. Then it’s a monotone announcement after a load of songs have played.

When all that music radio has become these days is this sad lonely computer playing one song after another, it is absolutely refreshing to find and listen to the last ever radio DJ, Tony Blackburn.

Christopher England — Christopher has worked in radio since the mid 1970s, and enjoys stirring up trouble.


5 years, 11 months ago

While I agree with some of the points you make, I have to disagree that Tony Blackburn is the last ever Radio DJ. There are others out there, you just have to look for them.

Yes there are a lot of long sweeps of music and short links on many stations, however to some extent, that is a new skill that presenters have to learn now. Instead of having plenty of time to say something, you now have to think about what you are saying and how you say it. This in itself is a skill that not every presenter can do.

With regards your statement that Tony is the sole Radio DJ, I have to disagree. Bob Harris on Radio 2 is still a master of putting a programme together that flows from one song to another. 6music has several presenters who by just listening have a passion and a love for the music that they play, whether it's Gilles Peterson, Craig Charles, Marc Riley or Mary Anne Hobbs to name a few. Simon Mayo makes presenting Drivetime on Radio 2 sound easy when I imagine it is anything but, with all the elements that go into it. Yes all of them have someone or a team helping but it is them, the presenter, that links it all together. There are others, both at the BBC and also at commercial stations, like Jazz FM and Planet Rock, you just have to hunt them out.

Even since I started working in radio in the late 1990s, what a presenter does has changed drastically, but with the new technology comes a new set of skills for a presenter to learn and master.

5 years, 11 months ago

The Jukebox on U105 in N.Ireland...unique...

"a friendly person actually ‘presenting’ the songs that are being played on the radio, enthusing about them on a song by song basis, unobtrusively interacting with them, and telling listeners what they are playing, whilst keeping everything moving at an infectious pace."

5 years, 11 months ago

But on the plus side your modern presenter can often tell you what's "coming up next"!

As regards "the last ever radio DJ" is Johnnie Walker no longer on Radio 2?
Sorry I'm only 50 so I wouldn't know, but when I've heard him from time to time in the past I love the music selection and relevant conversation. If only he were on a mainstream station that I could listen to!

5 years, 11 months ago

320aac on hit45s with presenters..... <<Streaming options here...Great music too...

Its not a personality based format but neither is Gold,however at least they offer a fabulous streaming option while Global and Bauer offer dire streams so not to show up how bad DAB is with mono audio

Mi soul is full of personality mind you and offer a lot of Tonys music preference too in 320 mp3 hi-fi format aswell

5 years, 11 months ago

I think, Tony Blackburn's 'Daily Delivery Of Discs' style of format may have slipped out of fashion over time! ILR copied the style for a time in the old days of severe ''needle time'' restrictions, also requiring a fair bit of dialogue during programmes!
Did people like that format? I did, but others didn't, preferring ''much more music'' content after the relaxation of the ''needle time'' rules.
It's not just pop music services affected with less talk, more music. I regularly listen to a local ceilidh programme in my neck of the woods with a kind of ''triple track play'' format. Stating that, I like the programme!

I sometimes look back fondly to the old days of ILR programming with its ''licorice all sorts'' schedule, catering for listeners of all age groups and tastes. Like the past era of old ILR, Tony Blackburn's old style of breakfast show on BBC Radio 1 has faded away over time! We have all moved on since then, radio evolves and we are all getting older!

Ask someone under 40 years of age about the old Radio Lexembourg English service. Radio What?

5 years, 11 months ago

So so accurate. I find myself constantly 'flicking around' in the car trying to find something to catch my attention and imagination. Where has the 'creative' side of radio gone? Where has the 'spontaneity' gone? Radio for me was all about 'what's going to happen next'. I've heard Abba, The Beatles, Coldplay a million times before, great artists but please play something from them that's a bit different. I used to love 'jocking' the music' and talking to callers about anything other than what's in the news. Radio used to be a friend, I feel that friend has now become a recluse. Perhaps it'll go full circle.

5 years, 11 months ago

Since when has JW not been on Radio2 have I missed something. Arguably the finest presenter /DJ ever,he talks to you not at you.

5 years, 11 months ago

If you want to hear a good, and I mean good DJ who connects with his audience then tune in to Radio Bristol on Saturdays around 18-00 and listen to Geoff Barker's Rock and Roll Party.

5 years, 11 months ago

Radio has been homogenised thanks to bean counters the world over. Entertaining radio is still out there. You just need to seek it out. I do my little bit towards that every Saturday night. <edited by admin>

5 years, 11 months ago

I love the old skool presenters tony and simon mayo are legends... radio is about the music first but the person who's presenting the tunes is just as important... although not in their class yet I used to listen to century 106 now (gem) pre gcap media days and Jim Davis who I think is now at BBC Leicester is another who's now around 42 years old going in the same direction as the couple of aforementioned. Knowledgeable and very engaging.. Maybe in a similar thread in 10 years you may say I was right!!

5 years, 11 months ago

It might be personal taste. But I've never been excited by the British Style. I am however totally fascinated by the old school American Top 40 style. And is anyone really going to knock the world famous Jam Jingles? Whatever the style of radio is (even talk back) know what you are "really pushing" mix in fun and you will win every time! Radio is a 1 on 1 (even though the second 1 is many) relationship never forget that.

Apologies for the shameless plug I messed up the link on the last one -
[Mod: edited that if you're sure it's right now.]

5 years, 11 months ago

What you fail to realise is it isn't the fault of the DJ/Presenter there's probably loads that want to talk more about the artist or the music but can't for fear of someone younger and cheaper in the chair the following day

5 years, 11 months ago

Radio stations have had to cut back as they grow, loosing very good presenters along the way and with automation there is now no place for talented presenters with their own style.
Radio killed the Radio star not letting presenters entertain.

Imagine a Fun filled family entertainment radio show you can’t get anywhere else.
I can offer you this!
If your station has imagination and not relying a computer doing everything.
The show is for late evening/late night (This does not mean the show is smutty) Far from it.
Late night radio will never be the same – There will be no need to automate as the listeners will want to join in the fun and you can’t do that with automation.
Its design is to draw the listeners in with its special audience participation features. Thus increase ratings.
Only one company will be worthy of this show will not go to the highest bidder.
It will go to a company with imagination that will do the show justice.
To request a demo of the show email
Only do this if you’re ready to take your company to the next exciting level.

5 years, 11 months ago

The thing about Tony is that he has over 50 years of experience of that presentation style and delivers it with warmth with slickness. Even Tony's career wasn't as good until his appearance on I'm a Celeb which gave him more opportunities until recent events at the BBC.

Yet there are others who attempt a similar delivery which comes over all Dave Doubledecks/Alan Partridge. There is a skill to delivering Tony's freeform and the US style tight links.

5 years, 11 months ago

Dear Mr England turn your radio to Jazz Fm at 2pm every saturday and listen to the best DJ on the radio now Peter Young.No playlists no computer chosen songs.PY plays the songs he loves from Gospel Soul to Funk.From the 50's up to today. New records and the legendary Soul Cellar.No one comes close to PY

5 years, 10 months ago

I think Tony Blackburn became a dinosaur, a relic of the past. He'd start a track and he'd still be rabbiting over the top of it even after the vocals had started. I grew up listening, mostly, to Radio 1 in the '80s. I can't stand people talking over the songs, either then or now, and find it akin to continuity announcers babbling over the end credits of a TV show or film while I'm taking in what I've just seen or, simply, just would prefer to hear the music.

I used to do community radio and there have been a lot of times when there's been no presenter on air, so the machine just churns out a random hour it's filled itself, and not only is that often better than most pre-programmed stations, but there's no-one to babble on and on. Why did I stop? After a few months, I was working more (i.e. earning money) and in my show I had a mix of content and music, so it took several hours to put together, and I couldn't always get into the studio to do my show, so I would often send it via WeTransfer for them to upload. Apart from a lack of interaction on a regular basis, I had to regularly chase whether the shows had been received and could be uploaded in time to go out. That was frustrating enough, but then one day, I sent the show across and no-one was in the studio at all on the Monday or Tuesday, so no-one could upload it and the show didn't go out. I quit after that. As well as having other things to be doing with my time, I wasn't going to spend several hours putting a show together for it not to go out.

Also, I used to enjoy the XFM Manchester breakfast show with Tim Cocker and Producer Jim, and then the changes meant they were out and Chris Moyles was in, either talking incessantly or playing Sugababes. WTF?!

As for 'crashing', for me, if they're talking over a great intro to a song then they are not worth my time listening. They never have anything of worth to say and they're just ruining the music and even if it's a song I like and by the time I've reached for the change-station button they've stopped talking, the moment is ruined and I can't entertain it any more.

On other points, I don't have DAB in the car so haven't listened to 6 Music (at the moment, I've got a ton of Bowie on a USB stick, so that's saving me earache), and I find Simon Mayo so dull, and I only put up with him on occasion during the movie reviews from Mark Kermode.

In addition, I hear Smooth and Heart playing the same two hours of music over and over. We've had both on, on separate days, when doing overtime at work, and over 8 hours, the same songs were played around 4 times.

5 years, 10 months ago

Dom, talking over the vocals is akin to trying to hold two conversations or listen in on two at the same time. Its very confusing and not good. Thus very unprofessional. I've seen a comedy skit taking off the pirates over there. Fading the music down mid song and saying anything right down to the colour of his undies. Very funny! I'm in Australia and we are very American in what we see on TV. But is it hands off our radio! We like it tight and tidy - not over cooked. Same thing as yourself, the punters don't like you talking all over the front of the songs. But they are just as quick to ring up and say "are you asleep?". This means the show sounds "slow". I find using intros a needed evil and done right is very crafty in it's own right. I'm sorry the yanks have that trophy! Google Broadway Bill Lee... not everyone's cup of tea (I get that) but boy it's pure audio art!

5 years, 10 months ago

Well, I was surprised by the title of this thread too.
To save the complicated intro, perhaps I wasn't ever much excited with DJs. When it came to the radio today, I seem to prefer specialist shows - which are a number, eg on Cuillin FM, a couple of stations in Devon and Somerset...
See, I don't even talk about ILRs. You take a look at the CR sector here - lots of guys doing great job.
Back to the 'intro', I don't even like "music radio" - there MUST be people there, talking stuff - to say "Hello, I'm here alive drinking coffee and watching the gear here!" at least;) Well, yes, I do listen to music on the radio, and very often that does sound like the music radio. You too do things that you do not PARTICULARLY like too much, right? ;)

So, DJs?
Dom's right. And others. New age, technologies allow to shift to get flexible. To advance the programming. Genres matured and started to diverge and diversify: some maintain a mainstream format even simplified, some try stuff like hourly/quarterly/whateverly inclusion the other being whatever they choose - automaton, shows, a DJ on a long shift...
To speculate, it might be - with all these advancements/diversification - room for "DJs proper" could have been shrinking. Am I right?

5 years, 10 months ago

I too miss the old style of music radio presenting, especially on ILR when trying to be all things to all people you also got a great cross section of music and not the repetition you get today. The presenters or DJs when talking should either be entertaining or informative and so often they fail on both counts.

One point missed in the article that really gets to me is that many stations favour the zoo radio approach especially at breakfast where they behave like a gang of friends in the studio. The trouble is they so often forget the listener and isolate them, it's like being at a party where you don't know anyone and no one wants to talk to the stranger. Remember Terry Wogan, he only ever had one listener, it worked so well. Radio is an intimate medium.

These days I find that if I want to be entertained or informed I listen to Radio 4 and if I want music I listen to one of the non-stop music stations such as The Arrow, all acording to my mood.

I love radio, have never worked in it, it remains an ambition. As I've matured I have moved on from envying the music presenter, but the Radio 4 continuity anouncer always seems a wonderful job.

5 years, 10 months ago

Radio in the style you talk about is alive and well in the world of hospital radio. There are lots of stations onine - why not have a listen. The music is a complete mix , much of it is requested by listeners and the presenters do talk about it.

5 years ago

There are still some of us who present radio shows who are also DJs in the true sense of the word and go out and entertain the public at clubs and music festivals using actual discs - and do the same on the radio too - Most of these are found on Community radio channels like mine - but there are some on BBC Local radio too - Stephanie Hirst comes to mind for example on BBC Manchester etc.

5 years ago

There are still some of us who present radio shows who are also DJs in the true sense of the word and go out and entertain the public at clubs and music festivals using actual discs - and do the same on the radio too - Most of these are found on Community radio channels like mine - but there are some on BBC Local radio too - Stephanie Hirst comes to mind for example on BBC Manchester etc.

4 years, 12 months ago

We have a policy that when live our presenters are expected to speak not just introduce songs. As our team are all presenters and producers of their own shows, their choices means that they can talk about a particular track with authority or a story attached to it. We do have to fall back on back-up jukeboxes at certain times of the day but we think that personality and presentation of the music we play is as important as telling you what has just played alone. Personality is missing from a lot of stations that just voice track, which is mundane but it's all about money and full of adverts, which often take up more time than the presenter talking these days.

4 years, 10 months ago

There are currently two presenters on Radio 2 in the UK who seem to have NO respect of the music they play......they either crash the vocal or 'pot' the song in favour of either yet another mundane comment or just lousy backtiming, A news junction in my mind is what listeners are waiting why does one of those best paid presenters in the UK seem to have no respect for that? News at 9am? Try at 9 02 .....oh yes....there it is!

4 years, 10 months ago

and had they been using IRN said person would have just missed the bulletin. Prima Donna springs to mind David.

4 years, 10 months ago

Lack of professional discipline in my book Lee.

1 month ago

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1 day, 2 hours ago

So why does one of those best paid presenters in the UK seem to have no respect for that? News at 9am.

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