Even forty years ago, it was not cool to admit that one listened to his programme. At school in Devon, the radio station chosen was determined by the person who owned the radio, if the disliked a particular DJ, the programme would not be heard. If they listened to BBC Radio 1, friends at sixth-form college in Somerset would only have tuned into John Peel or Tommy Vance on weeknights, or, perhaps, Annie Nightingale on Sunday afternoons. BBC Radio 1’s daytime programmes were avoided by rock aficionados; bands that featured on The Old Grey Whistle Test were not likely to appear in weekday playlists. Going to university in 1979, even listening to Radio 1 was met with hoots of derision; undergraduates in London listened to Capital, or to one of the various pirate stations that might appear then disappear.
At home, in the depths of rural Somerset, among the busyness of everyday life, it was unlikely that anyone noticed what radio programme was on air, and even more unlikely that anyone would have commented on one’s choice of listening; so it was that Tony Blackburn became a familiar voice on many days when the radio was the chief link to the world beyond the fields and farms that surrounded us.
The jokes were always corny, the quips came with a significant groan factor, but behind the broadcasting voice there was a feeling that there was someone at ease with themselves; someone who felt no need for the cynicism found among some other broadcasters; someone who assumed no airs of superiority; someone who established a rapport with the millions of listeners who tuned in each day. In times when the news carried stories of a turbulent world, Tony Blackburn seemed a voice of constant good humour and positive thinking; his programmes were devoid of angst and pessimism.
On an Easter bank holiday Monday evening, there was a sense of having recaptured the ebullient mood of the Tony Blackburn shows of the long, hot 1970s summers. In a three hour programme on the theme of “lucky numbers,” he presented an eclectic selection of music, tied together by the fact that they all featured numbers in their titles. Listeners were challenged to add together all the numbers and, at the conclusion of the programme, to text the total to the programme. During the course of the programme, people messaged him from all over the country with tales of where they were, or what they had been doing over the long weekend. Throughout the broadcast, Tony Blackburn talked with a self-deprecatory cheerfulness; he has long known that a good broadcaster directs his words not to an audience of millions, but to each individual who is listening.
Having long ago ceased to worry what people might think of my listening choices, this evening’s programme was a piece of fun. There was not even a prize for the person who got the final total correct, just a sense that between the gloom of the hourly news bulletins, there was someone who could fill the air with lightness and laughter.