Tony Blackburn Profile

Tony Blackburn is one of Britain's best-known DJs. Since 1964, when he joined the pirate station Radio Caroline, Tony has been entertaining the nation with a mix of pop music and a unique brand of on-air banter. We caught up with him for a chat about the early days of pirate radio, Radio 1 and the sound that still inspires him - soul music.

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WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BROADCAST FROM THE PIRATE SHIPS?

It was great to be a pioneer on those pirate radio ships. I knew when I went out there that it was going to change broadcasting, that it represented the end of the BBC monopoly. For the first time, we were broadcasting radio designed for people who just wanted popular music. I was out there for a total of three years, first with Radio Caroline and then with Big L Radio London. It was a tremendous experience. I look back on it now and can hardly believe I was out there. We were anchored three-and-a-half miles off the coast of Frinton. To get to the ship, we would take a little tender boat from Harwich. We had to go through customs - in effect we were meant to be going abroad. We were anchored in territorial waters, flying under the flag of Panama. We did two weeks on the ship, and a week off. As well as playing music, we also used to write the news. People would ask where we'd got the news from. Well, we listened to the BBC and rewrote it! At one stage it did baffle the BBC because we also used to listen to Voice of America, and we rewrote a VOA story that we aired before the BBC. It was great fun. Radio Caroline immediately caught on and it worried the hell out of the BBC. The idea of it had been to bring about commercial radio but in fact, of course, it brought about Radio One.

YOU WERE THE FIRST DJ TO BROADCAST ON RADIO 1. TELL US ABOUT THAT.

It was great to be chosen to open the Radio 1 breakfast show on September 30, 1967. It was part of broadcasting history. I had been very influenced by American radio, particularly when I broadcast on Big L Radio London. They were the first UK station to bring in high-powered American jingles. The BBC weren't interested in Radio Caroline. They were more interested in copying Radio London. So, most of the early DJs came from Radio London. It was a much more professionally run operation. Although people remember Radio Caroline, the best ship, actually, was Radio London. The original Radio One jingles were a dead copy of Radio London's.

WHAT DID THE SIXTIES MEAN TO YOU?

The sixties were a total revolution. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, fashion, Carnaby Street, film and photography, the sexual revolution - everything was different. So much happened in those ten years. I loved the flower power era - everybody dangling bells around their necks. It looked most odd but it was all very colourful. The sixties was a fabulous time to be brought up in or to be a younger person. I was very lucky to have been of that era. Kids now spend most of their time staring at TV screens and computers. I love computers but I think that the lifestyle we had was slightly healthier. And all that business about if you remember the sixties, you weren't there... I don't remember it as being as druggy as everybody makes out. I was never offered drugs in the sixties. I think it's very over-hyped, that. Nowadays, unfortunately, there's drugs everywhere. But in the sixties - of course there were drugs - but they weren't as widely available as they are now. I don't remember any of my friends taking drugs.

YOU'RE KNOWN AS A CHAMPION OF SOUL MUSIC. HOW DID YOU GET INTO SOUL?

For me, it started with Jackie Wilson, a song called Reet Petite, released in 1957. I also loved other early American soul groups like the Drifters and the Shells. Right from the word go, I felt that music did something more for me. I much preferred growing up with American music to British music. I got into Motown, too - Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Four Tops, people like that. I love Motown and I still play it, particularly on my BBC London show.

They weren't only good on record but they were good performers, too. White singers are OK but, for me, they don't quite sing with the passion of black soul singers. I also love the seventies disco stuff - Shalamar and Sister Sledge, for example.

WHAT ABOUT THE BEATLES? WERE THEY THE BEST BAND EVER?

Well, Beatlemania was exciting and fun. I enjoyed every moment of it - and the Rolling Stones, for that matter. The Beatles had a knack for writing terrific songs that will be heard for evermore. But, for me, seeing a wonderful soul singer perform is something special. I prefer listening to Teddy Pendergass or Marvin Gaye than Paul McCartney or John Lennon. It's just a matter of taste!

DO YOU PREFER THE STONES TO THE BEATLES?

Not really. I do think the Stones' performances were much more exciting, though. Mick Jagger - he leaps around still, even at his age! They're much more rough and ready, which is nice. But, out of the two, I preferred the Beatles. Songs like Satisfaction and Get Off Of My Cloud are great but, in terms of importance, the Beatles came out on top for me.

WHAT SORT OF RADIO DO YOU LIKE LISTENING TO?

I find radio stations featuring DJs who aren't allowed to be personalities tedious. It's all three-in-a-row and a time-check. Quite honestly, I've got an iPod for that. There was a time at Capital Gold when they destroyed it by making us play three-in-a-row and a time-check. I listen to speech radio or to someone who's really funny, who makes me laugh, makes me want to listen. Like Jonathan Ross - I think he's great. I'm interested in personality radio. In the broadcasting world as a whole, there are an awful lot of people who talk common sense. Luckily for me, there are not many who talk rubbish - and I've always been in the business of talking nonsense! Which I love. Just having fun. That's what it should be all about.