Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Radio One More Time: A King In New York

Considering that much of its daily business is related to an artform born in the United States, the modern Radio One doesn't bother itself overmuch with what happens in America. Oh, sure, Newsbeat might keep a watching eye on the Kanye West - Fifty Cent battle, but these days the actual detail of the American charts are of no interest to the station.

It wasn't always so, of course: right through the 1980s, Paul Gambaccini would pop-up, week-in, week-out, filling Saturday afternoon with a run-down of what was doing well in America. Despite Gambaccini's enthusiasm for the music, and his natural skills as a broadcaster, he never shone, being forced to work with one of the most depressing source materials known to man. The Billboard Hot 100 was as dull then as it is today, and you'd find yourself sitting through an awful lot of music inappropriately filed as "radio-friendly rock" to get to anything even as appetising as a Bangles or a Go-Go or a Til Tuesday.

That the drabness wasn't Gambo's fault was shown when he got the chance to break free from the chart chains - sitting in for holidaying jocks, or hosting The Other Side of the Facts, the bizarre spin-off from his Rock God Hagiography series for Channel 4, The Other Side of the Tracks. This Sunday afternoon confection, co-presented by his Guiness Hit Singles colleague Tim Rice, was little more than an illustrated Did You Know...; the atomic trivia-powered brains of the pair lifting the programme way above the sort of well-worn factoid that you'd get on the Steve Wright in the Afternoon show.

There was another regular slot dedicated to Americana around the same time, too: A King In New York. Probably the shortest programme ever to get a regular slot on Radio One, this was the pop culture answer to Letter From America, with Jonathan King taking the role of the essayist. We'd love to know how many BBC producers it took to persuade him the first word of the title should be "a" and not "the".

It's worth recording that, with his knowledge and passion for all things American, King's weekly short could actually stand shoulder to shoulder with Alistair Cook's and was much more than a simple radio precursor of Entertainment USA. Indeed, the decision to end the programme came from King himself rather than any negative feedback from audiences - with a typically self-aggrandising flourish, in the last programme King explained that he was travelling around the world so much, either he'd have to give up the programme altogether or change its name weekly to reflect the fabulous locale in which he found himself at time of recording. To the audible relief of the typesetters at the Radio Times, he chose the former route.

[Part of Radio One More Time]


1 comment:

James said...

I never heard King's show, but do remember what might have been an atempt to resurrect the idea in the 90s. On Tuesday nights, in the 9-10pm slot reserved for comedy/documentary shows, there was a short-lived programme about America hosted by a woman called Kennedy.

I'm struggling to recall any details beyond that, but I seem to remember it was an hour of the sort of thing that Katie Puckrick did lots better, whenever she was a guest on Mark Radcliffe.

By the way, I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only person who's always found the Billboard chart soul-crushingly dull. In theory it should be fascinating; So many American artists fill the UK chart these days, it should act as some sort of preview to what we'll be listening to in weeks to come. But for some reason it's never worked like that. Looking at this week's, it reads like the UK chart from last month (possibly because the Billboard Hot 100 might be one of those charts that insists on including bloody airplay).

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