John Peally Is a Radio Pioneer

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October 15, 2014 by johnnyseifertradio

Getting off the 79 bus and walking into school in North London without my parents was a big move and a sign I was growing up. Gone was Jonathan Seifert and here was a twelve year old adolescent spotty, hairy Johnny the explorer walking around with a blazer three sizes too big. I was finding out about girls, learning about Pythagoras Theorem (A2+B2=C2) in maths and creating a fruit salad in Food Technology. Welcome to 2004 and my first year at JFS high school. However, whilst my life was beginning, another life was ending, John Peel, the pioneer of new music on BBC Radio 1. This week marks ten years since he left his eternal legacy on the 22:00-00:00 slot on BBC Radio 1 and unfortunately passed away.  I started listening to BBC Radio 1 in 2005 with Chris Moyles, Jo Whiley and Scott Mills. However, one name has continued to come up in the past ten years that I am still not familiar with, John Peel.

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I had always heard how presenters such as Colin Murray, Nick Grimshaw, Phil Taggart and Huw Stevens were hosting their show in the ‘John Peel Slot’. Whenever I visit New Broadcasting House to go to BBC Radio 1 I am directed to the ‘Peel Wing’ and up to the eighth floor.  As soon as the Glastonbury festival line up is announced I go through the stages such as the Pyramid Stage and always come across the John Peel Stage’. But who is John Peel? Why was John Peel so important to the radio that we listen to today?

Like I said I was 12 years old when he passed away and I never got to know about him or hear his radio shows. Furthermore, his interest in music genres is far away from my love of S Club 7, One Direction and Kelly Clarkson.  I listened to a radio documentary this week about John Peel (Linked at the bottom) and had to jump for the mute button every time a song was played. Below is a clip of John talking on air so that both you and I can start to understand the importance of a radio DJ who was given an OBE in 1998 for his contribution to British music.

I think the words ‘legacy’ and ‘pioneer’ are the two words that stick out with John Peel when his name is mentioned. I have looked in previous blogs about radio being a friend and discussing both sets of lives to each other. But, what about the radio presenters that share their love of music? If you were to walk in to a radio station today you would see tight playlists that have been programmed by the music team of the radio station who have formatted an A,B,C, Recurrent playlist which may change on a Wednesday each week. The songs selected are based on extensive market research playing audiences 30 second hooks of each song and finding the big followings on social media for new artists. However, John Peel never part took in this, least because the internet was not as big back then. What fascinates me about John is that his passion for music was his life. John would drive home, listen at home, listen on holiday to tapes that were sent into him of new music and never wanted to miss out on the new music that could have been missed. I heard a story how he was listening to tapes whilst catching up with his family at dinner and would tell everyone to be quiet so that he could just listen to the tape a little louder as it had caught his attention. The best thing is, his family accepted that and were silent #Amazing! This extends to the fact that because he was so knowledgeable about music he was shocked when he found a track that does not fit into a genre. One day, John was sent a record from the East End of London about this genre called Grime or as I call it noise. John was so interested in this new wave of music he went to record shops to discover more artists who were working in this genre. This is really interesting as this style of music at the time was only being heard on the Pirate radio stations illegally and now it was to come to the mass audience.

The second topic I want to look at in connection with John is the importance of the relationship formed between the audience and the radio presenter has always been spoken about. However, what has not been mentioned in the relationship between the radio presenter and the music artists. It is important on air that a rapport is built as the DJ needs to sell the artist and the artist can help bring potential listeners to the radio station. John went a step further and would do OB’s from his house having bands such as Blur and artists such as Jack White playing in his kitchen and building the relationships with the artists. In some ways it was important that this happened as new artists did not have the platforms that exist today such as Soundcloud, Youtube and Twitter to showcase their music and therefore there was more of a reliance on the radio DJ to play their music. The only example I can think of today where this occurs is Fearne Cotton who hosts a Christmas party at her house on BBC Radio 1 but one would presume it is more about the celebrity singer-guests then the appreciation for the music that is played. We have music artists and radio presenters that are friends such as Nick Grimshaw and Harry Styles as well as Greg James and Ellie Goulding but is this not more about the celebrities then about the music played?

As I have demonstrated in my two arguments John valued new music. John valued different sub-genres. John engaged with his listeners beyond his two hour radio show. Is this not what we should all be doing? Yes we can go in to the studio read some texts, press some buttons, send a tweet but are we going to be remembered as a legacy and a pioneer of radio?

I don’t think so…..

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