BBC Radio broadcast legend chats with SU London students about the days of ‘pirate radio’

BBC Radio broadcaster Johnnie Walker poses with SU London students on the "Musical Mapping" course

BBC Radio broadcaster Johnnie Walker (center, back row) poses with SU London students on the "Musical Mapping" course

Broadcaster and author Johnnie Walker visited SU London this week to talk to students of the undergraduate music and culture course, Musical Mapping — which is part of the esteemed Bandier Program.

Johnnie, who currently works for the UK’s most listened to radio station, BBC Radio 2, took students through his famed career in broadcast, music and social history – recalling his role as an off-shore pirate radio DJ on Radio Caroline in the 1960s.

Johnnie explained how frustrations with monopoly radio – the entrenched unwillingness of the legal radio executives of the period to restructure programme schedules in order to accommodate the musical and cultural changes kick-started in the mid to late 1950s – led into a virulent rise in pirate radio broadcasting. As a result, it was the ‘pirates’ who became the taste-makers of burgeoning British and American music. So familiar were they with key record releases and emerging musical styles that many were credited with helping to ‘break’ domestic groups like The Animals, introduce listeners to key releases from debutant imprints like Island Records and to alert fans to the magnitude of imported musical movements like ‘The Motown Sound’. The personal and legal risks undertaken by Johnnie, his Radio Caroline bosses, colleagues and peers at Radio Luxembourg and Radio London were also shared.

Johnnie’s informal talk explored how the generational and social class divide that existed in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s was detectable on air on legal radio but rejected by the pirates who reveled in the less informal ‘self-op’ style of broadcasting who preferred to speak jocularly or emotively to their listeners. Walker recalled how listener appeal was reinforced by technological developments – with portable radio solidifying the relationship between this new brand of music broadcaster and fan, forever binding their shared, near obsessional, love of music.

Johnnie Walker’s visit is the first of several key visits to students of Musical Mapping, a new addition to the London’s Study Abroad course programme. Musical Mapping seeks to explore contemporary music’s relationship with social history and regional and national identity.

Click here to learn more about Johnnie Walker’s BBC Radio 2 programme.

Click here to learn more about SU’s Bandier Program.

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About Peter Bjork

Web-guy for the Syracuse University London Program
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