Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Roller coaster

Radio 2's Johnnie Walker doesn't have to play the Bay City Rollers on Sounds of The Seventies. That's the verdict of the BBC Trust, widely reported in the papers. You need a bit of context.

In March 1975, the Rollers version of Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye) was top of the charts for a sixth week in succession. Johnnie Walker (then 30) was lunchtime host on Radio 1; Derek Chinnery (then 50) was Controller. JW recalled ensuing events for Jive 95.  Warning: bad words.

"I was supposed to announce it and be very excited about it. But when I did it, I just sounded pissed off. About ten minutes later my producer [Ron Belchier, according to Radio Times] walks in and says, ‘The switchboard has been flooded with angry Bay City Rollers fans. I think you’d better say something.’ He meant, of course, that I should apologise.

"I said, ‘No fucking way am I going to apologise.’ So the producer disappeared, went off to the pub to avoid the flak. I just opened up the microphone and said, ‘Apparently a lot of Bay City Rollers fans are complaining about the way I introduced Bye Bye Baby. What do you want me to do? I played the record. You cannot force me to like it, because I don’t like it. To be honest, I think they produce total musical garbage.”

"Well, that was it. The shit really did hit the fan. It was front page news in the newspapers. Surprising, Derek Chinnery said, ‘Well, that was his individual opinion, and we think he shouldn’t have said it, but he’s entitled to his opinion.” So at least I felt I had a bit of support, but it definitely was in my file in bold type.

"So when it came time to renegotiate my contract, that’s when Derek Chinnery told me I was too into the music. He said, ‘You cannot play album tracks on your lunchtime show. It’s got to be like the preceding one and the following one. Be like Tony Blackburn and David Hamilton.' ”

"Well, I suppose he was in charge of the radio station and he had a point, he wanted it to sound the same all day. It wouldn’t have been a problem if the chart had been made up of better music than it was, but this was a time when bands, famously, did not want to release singles, because there was so much rubbish, so much bubblegum crap. Status Quo went off to the countryside and didn’t make any new music for over a year so they could come back as an albums band. They re-invented themselves. 

"The cool music in the 70s was on albums. I said, ‘Well, why don’t you give me a show at the weekend?’ I was quite willing to come off daytime for a couple of years, do the weekend, have more musical freedom. He said, ‘That is completely ridiculous.’ To him, you see, the weekend was second division. In those days it was second division deejays that did the weekend. Now it’s the other way round. You get big names at the weekend, Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Ross …

So he said, ‘No, it’s gotta be the lunchtime show for two years, or nothing.’ He caught me at the wrong moment. I couldn’t face the idea of two years of playing the Bay City Rollers and the like, so I said, ‘Well, it had better be nothing, then.’ And I walked out."

It was to be eleven years before Johnnie was re-employed by BBC Radio.

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