Pirates Put BBC Broadcasting to the Sword

by Ray Setterfield

Event Date: September 30, 1967
Location: London, England, United Kingdom

Former pirate radio DJ Tony Blackburn presented the BBC’s new Radio 1 station on this day. The first disc he played was Flowers In The Rain by Sixties’ rock band The Move.

The rise of rock ’n’ roll music and bands such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the early Sixties created a huge demand by radio listeners across Britain. It was a demand, however, not met by the then rather stuffy and conservative BBC.

As a result, pirate radio stations flourished, broadcasting on the medium waveband from ships anchored off the coast, the most famous of them being Radio Caroline and Radio London. They were safe from restrictive UK regulations because they were operating from international waters.

Reception was primitive by today’s standards, but pop music fans were grateful for what they could get and by 1967 ten pirate radio stations were broadcasting to an estimated daily audience of 10 to 15 million. The entrepreneurs who had set up the stations were also pulling in an estimated advertising revenue of more than £2 million a year.

In response to this phenomenon, the BBC was forced to do some heart-searching and decided to reorganise its radio channels. Out went its flagship Light Programme, featuring light entertainment, to be replaced by Radio 2. The Home Service, taken up by news, drama and discussion, became Radio 4. Radio 3 was devoted to classical music.

And so, with a fanfare and much eager anticipation, came Radio 1, with an endless stream of pop music, mainly from the charts, introduced by a group of DJs who were to become household names.

Leading them was Tony Blackburn, who cheerily announced: “And good morning everyone! Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1.” And with a clap of thunder, The Move launched into Flowers In The Rain.

Blackburn had been recruited by the BBC after broadcasting on both Radio Caroline and Radio London. He left the BBC in 1984 to work for other broadcasters but was re-hired by the corporation in 2010.

Finally, he was sacked in February 2016 after a row with the management. He continues to present a show on a local commercial radio station.

Published: August 4, 2016

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