Like most teenagers of the eighties, I grew up with one ear permanently stuck to the radio.
Not only was a good radio station a “random playlist” of the popular tunes of the time (with the odd few oldies thrown in), it also told the news, had interviews, played live or recorded concerts (even via FM-stereo simulcasts with mono TV), and anything else related to music and pop culture.
Radio provided the soundtrack to my formative years.
While it’s fair to criticise both stations for mainly playing the current Top 40 fodder as prescribed by the record industry, it must also be said that radio introduced me to many acts I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise and still listen to today (Neil Johnson, Chris Prior, Barney Simon — I’m talking to you). This was likely on account of very smart scheduling of the DJs by the station manager and the music they, themselves, introduced on their own accord. Many DJs became influential “radio personalities” (although the term wasn’t common at the time), with devoted audiences.
I would even go as far as asserting that it was South Africa’s unique geographic location and demographics which gave radio listeners the benefit of hearing UK acts before they made it across the pond, and we probably got to hear Aussie/Kiwi bands long before they were known in either the UK or the USA. We were certainly aware of many a European act before anyone in the Anglophile world took note, and then there were the domestic acts — most of which never broke anywhere else.
Sure, I had my fair share of (own and borrowed) tapes and records to listen to but for the largest part of my teenage years it was radio that supplied most of the music in our home and on the desk while doing homework (with one finger hovering over the “record” button in case a good tune came up again). Expensive imported magazines aside, other than the weekly half-hour “Pop Shop” TV programme and the “Family Radio & TV” magazine, there wasn’t really much else around for a kid slowly getting into music.
“Everything I had to know I heard it on my radio”
And though I never made a point of listening to the weekly charts, what I did thoroughly enjoy were the best-of-the-year charts, guessing which tune it was that finally made it to the top of the pile — and cursing when one of my own favourites didn’t make the cut.
In time, it became customary for Radio 5 and Radio 702 to count down the greatest singles of the year — either during the Day of Goodwill (Boxing Day) or on New Year’s Day. The countdown of the top 150 radio hits started at six o’clock in the morning and lasted until about seven at night.
It became an institution, and I did my darndest to wake up early and write it all down!
Image credits: Scans by hmvhDOTnet