On Saturday September 30, BBC Radio 2 celebrates its 50th birthday. To mark the occasion the station is broadcasting a special season of programmes including a Friday Night Is Music Night concert with songs and anecdotes from across the last five decades, The Listener’s Stories where those at home share their memories, four episodes of Johnnie Walkers Long Players about the music of 1967, and documentaries on pirate radio and on The Light Programme which both paved the way for BBC Radio 2.
The station has also commissioned some unique portraits of its current presenters from rock star and photographer Bryan Adams and listeners will get a sneak peek behind the scenes of this photo shoot in Radio 2: A Birthday Portrait.
In September 1967, while the UK was enjoying the long hot summer of love and BBC TV had recently broadcast its first colour pictures, BBC Radio closed the fader for the last time on the Light Programme and launched two brand new popular music networks to the BBC family - Radio’s 1 and 2 - on 30 September 1967. For half a century since then, Radio 2 has been waking listeners up, driving them home, informing, educating and entertaining them.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2, says: “I’m incredibly proud of Radio 2’s heritage. With its unique mix of much-loved DJs - from Chris Evans to Sir Jimmy Young, Desmond Carrington to the radio king of them all, Sir Terry Wogan - and distinctive medley of music, documentaries and current affairs, it has been a part of millions of people’s lives for half a century. And I’m thrilled to be inviting listeners to take part and share in our 50th birthday celebrations with shows that share their memories too.”
As part of the celebrations, rock star and photographer Bryan Adams has taken portraits of some of the network’s presenters at his London studio. Bryan says: “It was an honour to be asked by BBC Radio 2 to take pictures of the presenters to celebrate their 50th anniversary. You couldn't fail with such an eclectic mix of personalities, some of whom I've known for many years. As days at work go, it was a good one.” On the photo-shoot, Graham Norton said: "Today is like a school outing, the Radio 2 extended family in Bryan Adams’s glamorous shed."
All the behind the scenes action has been captured for Radio 2: A Birthday Portrait - made by Just Radio - a one-hour documentary telling the story behind the shoot. Radio 2: A Birthday Portrait (20 September, 10-11pm) will see presenters including Zoe Ball, Chris Evans, Dermot O’Leary, and Claudia Winkleman reflect on what the station means to them, their memorable moments and their relationship with the audience, providing an intimate glimpse of the Radio 2 family on a day out and off duty.
Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park
Kicking off the birthday celebrations is Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park (Sun 10 September), which will feature performances from Take That, Blondie, James Blunt, Emeli Sandé, Rick Astley, Seth Lakeman & Wildwood Kin, Stereophonics, and special guest Shania Twain. The superstar line-up will perform live for the 45,000 strong crowd as well as listeners to Radio 2 and for viewers at BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer and bbc.co.uk/radio2.
Friday Night Is Music Night
Ken Bruce will be wheeling in the birthday cake to celebrate Radio 2's 50th anniversary on Friday Night Is Music Night (22 September, 8-10pm). In this special concert, Ken Bruce - with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Bell - will recall some of the great programmes and moments of Radio 2's long history from music, comedy, religion, sport and news and current affairs. Presenters past and present will gather at the Hackney Empire, London, to remember shows such as Open House, Breakfast Special, Late Night Extra, the News Huddlines, Waggoner's Walk, Sing Something Simple and many more. Guests include Albert Hammond, a singer-songwriter whose pen and ink has provided classic hit songs across all five decade for artists including Diana Ross, Tina Turner, The Hollies, The Carpenters, Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin.
The Listener's Stories
Radio 2 is handing over the microphone to its listeners in The Listener's Stories (26 and 27 September, 10-11pm). Produced by 7Digital, these two hour-long programmes will put the listeners in the spotlight as they tell their stories of Radio 2 over the years - how the station has shaped their lives and how its variety of shows, music and personalities have come to be a familiar presence in their daily routines. They talk about their love of different presenters, including former Radio 2 Breakfast Show host, Sir Terry Wogan.
Listener Billy from Bermondsey says: “He started doing this thing, with Janet and John. That was it… Oh my God! During the day, you'd talk to a lot of other cab drivers, and they'd all be saying, "Have you been listening to Terry Wogan and Janet and John?” And they'd all be saying the same thing; "We had to pull over. I had to stop. Because if I didn't stop, I knew I was going to have an accident because it was so risqué and so funny!"
Listener Graham from Peterborough says: “I used to be a lorry driver and listening to Terry Wogan deliver the Janet and John stories always brightened up my day. He showed his real human side. I miss him every day!”
On the day of the birthday itself, Saturday 30 September (7-8.30am), Radio 2 presenter, Tony Blackburn, will re-create live his Radio 1 Breakfast show - the programme that launched that station on the same day as Radio 2. He’ll be playing all the records on their original vinyl formats, including the first song ever broadcast on the show, Flowers In The Rain by The Move.
It will be broadcast on both Radio 2 and Radio 1 Vintage (a pop-up digital station marking Radio 1’s birthday), and Tony will be setting the scene earlier in Sounds of the Sixties (6-7am). From 8.30-10am, both Tony and Radio 1’s current Breakfast Show host, Nick Grimshaw, will co-present a special breakfast show across the two stations and Radio 1 Vintage.
The Story Of The Light
Paul O’Grady celebrates life before Radio 2 with a two-part series on the history of The Light Programme, produced by Made in Manchester. The Story Of The Light (18 and 25 September, 10-11pm) looks back at more than 20 years of ground-breaking variety from 1945 to 1967 - a time when comedy and light entertainment mixed with music and drama to create a truly British take on the post-war world. Two Way Family Favourites, Housewives Choice, Dick Barton, Hancock’s Half Hour, ITMA - It’s That Man Again, and Mrs Dales Diary were among the seminal gems that graced the airwaves in those halcyon times. Among those remembering their part in the story are Dame June Whitfield, Judith Chalmers, Nicholas Parsons, Petula Clark, Pete Murray and the late Brian Matthew in his last interview before he died. Others remembering the Light with affection include Esther Rantzen and Denis Norden.
Paul O’Grady says: “I'll be looking back at the way we were. Taking you back to a time when wireless meant tuning a dial on a wooden box filled with glowing valves, to find a world of great orchestras, unforgettable voices and timeless comedy. We'll have some fab music too - from Victor Sylvester to Sergeant Pepper. Hear how pirate Johnnie Walker almost got the cast of Mrs Dales' Diary arrested, and wait till you hear Esther Rantzen sing the various theme tunes! Join me, Paul O'Grady, for The Story of the Light, the station that became Radio 2 and Radio 1.”
Johnnie Walker Meets The Pirates
Radio 2 will also be remembering the radio pioneers who first took to the airwaves on the new Radio 1 and Radio 2 in September 1967. Two companion programmes will see Johnnie Walker relive the end of the pirate era and the BBC stations’ early days of broadcasting. Expect to hear interviews with fellow pirates (who also sailed to Portland Place) alongside archive of those sadly no longer with us like Kenny Everett and Dave Cash.
Johnnie Walker will be celebrating the excitement, energy and ground-breaking shows of the early pirate radio stations such as Radio London, Radio Caroline and Radio 270 in Johnnie Walker Meets The Pirates (14 August, 10-11pm). Joined by his friends and colleagues ‘Admiral’ Robbie Dale (who along with Johnnie remained on board after midnight on the 14 August when the Marine Offences Bill passed into law, broadcasting illegally to an estimated European audience of 22 million), Tom Edwards (who left Caroline on that same day), Pete Brady, Emperor Rosko and Tony Blackburn, who worked on both Caroline and London, he will play some of 1967’s key tracks on the medium wave.
Johnnie Walker Meets Pop Pioneers
Johnnie Walker Meets Pop Pioneers (19 September, 10-11pm) will see Johnnie reliving the early days of BBC radio ‘pop’ broadcasting with fellow pirates who left the high seas for the new stations’ homes in Portland Place - Paul Burnett, Keith Skues, Emperor Rosko and Tony Blackburn, alongside former Radio 1 controller and opening morning producer Johnny Beerling and David Symonds. And he will pay tribute to the first voice on Radio 2, Paul Hollingdale, who sadly passed away recently (just before he was due to record an interview for this programme). You’ll also hear archive clips from the opening morning on both stations, shows from the period including Top Gear and Junior Choice, and songs that were making the charts in the summer of love.
Johnnie says: "It was fascinating to hear all the memories from 50 years ago. There was so many great records being made and being out on the ships was the only way people were going to hear them. It was exciting, exhilarating and wonderful fun but of course we had no idea that we were creating history and changing broadcasting forever."
Johnnie Walker's Long Players
Four new special editions of Johnnie Walker’s Long Players (18, 20, 25 and 27 September, 11pm-midnight) will focus on 1967 - featuring new interviews with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd talking about their album Piper At The Gates of Dawn, and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues on Days Of Future Passed. Johnnie and David Hepworth will also be listening to and discussing classic 1967 albums from The Beatles (Magical Mystery Tour) and The Beach Boys (Smiley Smile and Wild Honey) in episode three, plus The Who (The Who Sell Out) and Jimi Hendrix (Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love) in episode four.