Slaying Dragons #9 – Radio History

John Watkinson relates a personal history of radio.

The family radio in the kitchen churned out uninspiring stuff most of the time, but I remember in 1962 it emitted a song called “Love Letters” by Ketty Lester, and when I listened to it I felt, probably for the first time, that here was a song that didn’t make me feel excluded, a song that was written for someone like me.

Another salient exception to the middle of the road was “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick, which I first heard around 1964. Again this emerged from the kitchen radio and I was riveted, not just by the voice but also by the complexity of the rhythm, something that would become a Burt Bacharach trademark.

In 1964 a neighbour chucked out his old radiogram and I was given the AM radio chassis, which turned out to have a very low noise floor. It became my escape from the parochial surroundings of East Yorkshire.

At that time, a revolution was taking place in popular music and the BBC was acting as if nothing was happening. The amount of time devoted to pop music was pathetic. There was a programme once a week called “Pick of the Pops” introduced by Alan Freeman, and a program on Sunday mornings introduced by Brian Matthew, both of whom would have long broadcasting careers. It was on a Brian Matthew show that I first came across Georgie Fame, who played a mean Hammond organ live. Other than those programs it was middle-of-the-road mediocrity.

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