The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Chris T-T Headshot

In Defence of Daytime Radio One

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Here's an opinion you don't hear very often, anywhere across the diaspora of inane cultural comment: in the past year or so I have rediscovered - and fallen back in love with, basically - BBC Radio 1.

I don't just mean the special interest shows that fill the evening and overnight slots (although several of these are incredible) - I'm talking about the daytime mainstream pop output dominated by the relentlessly demonized likes of Chris Moyles, Greg James, Fearne Cotton and Scott Mills. These presenters are constantly dismissed for shallowness, or for being annoying, or even more malignantly seen as part of the wider problem of commodified and over-sexualised youth culture.

And yet, this pile of über vanilla, playlist-looping, non 'music expert' radio DJs during the daytime produce hour after hour of properly entertaining live waffle - and really they are 'music experts', just not in the music 'we' like. In fact they're remarkably wholesome, consistently funny and represent the broad range of human values one ought to expect from a bunch of different individuals hired to chat and play records.

It's been an organic process, mostly in the car, driving alone: I get bored of Radio 4, then (usually within 10 minutes) angry at Radio 2, then put on Radio 3 and feel a bit superior enjoying the orchestral nonsense, til they spin some baroque shit which does my head in. Or opera. So then I'll try a couple of awful local commercial stations which last mere seconds. Then finally Radio 1.

For a long while Radio 1 was still my last choice - I am resisting the call - yet so often it's the station that's on in the car when I arrive where I'm going, to the extent that I'll often forget to switch back ever for Radio 4 programmes I specifically wanted to hear. Once you listen properly, the bulk of aggressive criticism of Radio 1 DJs seems to be mistakenly built around the iconography of the presenters' occasional clunky TV appearances or the news-worthy moments of controversy or cock-up, rather than what's actually going on on the radio; it's not a remotely fair picture of their day-to-day broadcasting. Yes, even Fearne Cotton.

One starts to clock how inclusive a lot of Radio 1 output manages to be. Of course it helps that I love current pop, hip hop and R&B music, so the playlist is cool. But it's also the sense that perhaps they've created a much safer, more progressive space for everyone listening than we imagine from the outside.

The other day, Chris Moyles announced that he was leaving the breakfast show after eight years, making him by some margin its longest serving presenter. Apparently they deliberately waited for a 'quiet period' (where he wasn't in the midst of a controversy or being scrutinised by the tabloids) to make the announcement, so that it wouldn't be linked to anything in particular.

By 10.30am that day, Broadcast magazine's blog and Radio 1's Newsbeat show had announced his replacement; Nick Grimshaw, who has become a familiar voice on the station across a bunch of shows over the last few years. Almost all I read online that day, from people I admire and especially from people in my own corner of the music world, was disdain for Moyles, disdain for Radio 1 in general and repeated throwaway snarky criticism of his incoming replacement.

Increasingly I think the bulk of derision for even a divisive figure like Moyles utterly fails to recognise how tough (high-skilled even) this job is and well his team serve millions of listeners, day after day. Live radio is nothing like pre-recorded television, podcasting or writing. It is more like stand-up or live music as a performance craft - and requires a spontaneous ability to deliver, that must also seem effortless. When things go wrong, when someone says something they shouldn't, it's going to be un-editable and remembered for a lot longer than those of us who can hit delete before we publish, or go for another take in the studio.

I'm surrounded by (and am myself) the sort of music maker for whom play on daytime Radio 1 is a rare occurrence: for some of us, it's a major ambition to cross into that kind of mainstream marketplace, while for others, it's of no interest, as we ply our trade entirely on specialist shows or eschew pop radio altogether. Either way, we should be the last people under-valuing what these shows do, for a start simply because we ought to understand how easy it is to slip up in live work and how exhausting that kind of 'performance' is, over a period of time.

Also, there's the matter of choice. Not just more radio stations but the huge number of other ways we can fill our lives with music now. It's vastly easier than 10 years ago to choose what you want to listen to. The BBC has, more than ever, a right to settle Radio 1 in that space and tailor output for its supposed demographic (which is in fact still younger than the station currently achieves, so if anything, arguably the output should be getting more irritatingly 'youth', not less so).

Maybe, of all the BBC stations, Radio 1 is the one moving in the right direction. Or maybe it's just me.