I’ve been listening to an awful lot of old pop radio recently. It’s been a rum old mix of offshore radio – (the usual suspects – Caroline, London, and the remarkable Radio 390, playing middle-of-the-road classics from Jim Reeves and Bert Kaempfert to the bored housewives of the South of England from a sea fort in the middle of the Thames Estuary). There’s been a fair amount of very early Radio 1 in there as well, dating from 1967 through to 1975 or so.
I began to notice something peculiar – or at least, something that most definitely doesn’t happen any more – and it’s this: when members of the public had a request played, the DJ would almost always read out their full address. Archive recordings are littered with what would now be regarded as confidential information – “I’ve got a letter here from Joan, and she lives at 67 Bakersfield Crescent, Chester – she wants to hear a record by Paul Jones. Well, here’s his latest for you, my love. Hope you enjoy it”. You know the kind of thing.
It occurs to me – there’s an awful lot of people out there who had their requests played. What happened to them all? Where did they get to? What sort of lives did they lead after Skuesey, Mark Roman or Dave Dennis played that one special number just for them? There may well be room for a “Who Do You Think You Are?” style research-intensive documentary there.
Lots to cover – there’s the social history of the people themselves. Where they came from – what changes have hit their old homes since they sent off that hopeful postcard way back when? Are they still living there, or did the social upheavals of subsequent decades lead to them trying their luck in other parts of the world? Did some little future television star – giddy with love for their favourite DJ – dash off an ill-advised missive consisting of the word “Please” repeated 2000 times, followed by a request for “Paint It, Black”?
It’s not just the likes of us that were pinpointed by our favourite DJs, either. Stuart Henry read out his Mum’s address in Edinburgh on one of his early Radio 1 shows. That area – Crewe Road South – has changed almost beyond recognition in the last forty years. I don’t imagine it’s the only one.
While we’re at it, there’s all sorts of other ephemera that we could dip into. Johnnie Walker had a habit of broadcasting his late night show from Caroline with a request for couples necking in their cars on the seafront at Frinton to flash their headlights at the Caroline ship anchored out at sea; when Ronan O’Rahilly decided to expand operations and the MV Caroline took off round the coast for a new anchorage as Caroline North just off Ramsey at the Isle of Man (leaving the MV Mi Amigo behind as Caroline South), the station broadcast continuously for the duration of the journey, commenting delightedly about the people on shore that signalled them, and those who puttered out in launches to say hello. Some of those people might well still be around. I wonder what they’re up to these days? The wonderful Radio London website is littered with reminiscences from people devastated when the Marine Offences Act took hold and their favourite stations had to close down. Be nice to get a few of them to tell their stories.
There’s room there for a fascinating series, I think. Because the people sending the requests were members of the public like you and me, there’s a chance that for once we might get a look at the habits of the music-loving public without the usual “phew – fans. Aren’t they loony?” nonsense that tends to litter retrospective documentaries. The story of Pop Radio in the UK is fairly well known these days. The story of the people who listened to it – in their bedrooms, in the canteen at work, in the garage while they pottered about – that’s not so familiar. There’s an untapped wealth of oral history there. Be nice if someone started digging.
Alternatively, if anyone should by a freak of chance find their way to this site who might have had their request played all those years ago, why not leave a comment or two? I’d be glad to host any recollections here. Meanwhile – BBC4… how about it?