Radio Memories – The UK Top 40.

The UK Top 40/The Official Chart etc. (BBC Radio 1, 1967-present)

This is a look back at a radio show that I remember on a music station. This was one of the few radio shows that I listened to regularly in the 90s, as it was always something of a big event, and it could be rather exciting, the pop stars themselves listened to this one supposedly. The way that the Top 40 singles chart has been compiled and announced has changed a lot over the years, but I do remember those Sunday afternoons on BBC Radio 1.

By the time I was a listener, the host was Bruno Brookes, who took over in 1986, and advancements in technology meant the chart could be announced quicker and be more accurate than ever. This event was worthy of a Radio Times cover, and the computer they used had a whole megabyte and everything. The show had been going long before I was a listener of course, and finding out more about the earlier days made me realise that there was a problem.

Curiously, the show only had a two-hour timeslot, which isn’t actually long enough to feature all of the 40 songs. They got around this by not featuring some of the songs going down on the chart, and playing only about two minutes of others. By 1991 the show was extended by 30 minutes, and again in 1992 by another 30 minutes, which meant every song could finally be featured. In 1990, Mark Goodier took over as host, before Brookes returned in 1992. vlcsnap-00001

I must admit that despite my interest in all this, I never actually bought any singles around this time, and like plenty of other people it seems, I did on one or two occasions get the tape recorder out and try to capture a few highlights. In 1995, Brookes was still the host, but the show was beginning to sound like it was in a timewarp a little, and he was just about the last of the hosts at the cheesier end of the scale to be let go during the difficult restructuring of Radio 1 in the mid-90s. Mark Goodier then took over again.

One interesting thing about the show at this point was that because by the mid-90s every song was played in full, there were lots of indie bands around that had small but dedicated fanbases, meaning that their singles briefly entered the lower end of the Top 40, leading to what would often be their only play on daytime radio, so along with the big mainstream hits it could be argued that the show was unintentionally the most eclectic on the station.

In the mid-80s, the show gained a rival that went out on various commercial radio stations across the country. This went through several relaunches, among the most popular was The Pepsi Chart (which also had a TV spin-off). This chart was based more on airplay than sales, so all of those pesky indie bands didn’t get a look in, meaning it was much more populist, and there were also opportunities for advertising and competitions that couldn’t be done on the BBC.

This meant that this one often achieved higher ratings than what was on Radio 1, which I always thought was a little unfair really. Goodier continued to host the show until 2002, although the format could be claimed to be a little stale by this point, continuing to concentrate on simply playing the hits and mostly being gimmick-free (I did enjoy the TV spin-off live on the CBBC Channel around this time though). Following Goodier’s departure, there was an attempt at some change.

The much younger Wes Butters (who seemed to say little beyond “hi this is Wes”) took over, and they decided to fill the time with more nonsense, and less on the actual songs. By the time JK And Joel took over, downloads were introduced to the chart. Things were changing now, and I was beginning to lose interest. I’m too old to be interested in chart music now, the last time I listened to the show seemed to consist of someone endlessly shouting “who’s gonna be Number One today?”. How fascinating.

One thought on “Radio Memories – The UK Top 40.

  1. Richard M White says:

    The 2 hour time slot originated because R1 was not allocated its own VHF/FM frequency until 1988. It “borrowed” 88-91 FM at various times during the week and on Sundays this was only between 5pm and when the station closed down for the night. In the early 80s, Tony Blackburn was taken off the show despite adding more than two million to the audience figures, which stayed high as it was the only place you could hear the hits in stereo. I talked about it in a podcast I did last year: https://www.mixcloud.com/Richard_M_White21/talking-charts-radio-1-and-the-top-40-with-gavin-samways/

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