Thursday, September 27, 2007

Radio One More Time: We can't play this

Much of what we think we know about what Radio One would, or wouldn't play, is reflected through myths and urban legends. The BBC, of course, maintains that it's not in the business of banning records, but merely suggests producers think more carefully about whether they should play them or not.

The pinnacle of not-exactly-banned records, of course, is land inhabited by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. After several weeks of playing Relax quite happily, one morning Mike Read happened to hear the lyrics. Spluttering tea from his TeaHee mug, he proclaimed it "overtly obscene" and pledged to ban it forthwith. It's never been clear why, if the song was so overt in its obscenity, he'd managed to spin it quite a few times before noticing; but the rest of the BBC duly fell into line, helping Frankie slide up the long shaft of the Top 40, and leaving Top of the Pops feeling unable to play the number one single.

We say the rest of the BBC; as Number One gleefully pointed out, not only was the then-newcomer Janice Long still playing Relax on her Saturday night show, but she was choosing the Sex Mix.

It's not always sex, of course: advertising can also see music banished from the network. Earlier this year, of course, there was that nasty attempt to try and pass off a slogan for some sort of hair product as a single; the manufactured band, Shocka, were rumbled and kicked off the airwaves. Oddly, though, Robin Beck's Diet Coke ad was able to find airtime despite being little more than an extended commercial soundtrack. First Love, true, didn't mention Coke; but then Style Attract Play didn't mention its hair product in the lyrics. It gets rather confusing.

Back when Doctor Hook released The Cover Of Rolling Stone, BBC executives nixed the very idea of playing the track - advertising Rolling Stone? The very idea. A group of pluggers, though, realised that Radio One in those days had no trouble pushing the Radio Times (you'll recall the "it's out today... the new Radio Times" jingle being a daytime staple back before competition in the listings markets meant they could no longer get away with it). So a recording session was hastily arranged, with the pluggers bellowing "Radio Times" every time "Rolling Stone" up in the lyrics.

The first Iraq war also shook some tracks off the airwaves - Carter's Bloodsports For All was deemed unsuitable for broadcast - although the chances of any daytime show making space for a song about bullying in the forces would surely have been slight, even during peace time. Massive Attack managed to keep on the radio, though, by the simple expedient of dropping the word "Attack" from their name for duration of hostilities. Kind of like when they took the Liver Birds down during World War Two, it's unlikely it fooled anyone but the sense of fake sacrifice was considered important.

Ten years ago, Diana Spencer's failure to use a seatbelt led to a sludge of instrumental, empty music pouring out of Radio One. Funnily enough, the only letter I ever had read out on Feedback was during the early 90s, when I asked if it was true that the death of a royal (we were all betting on the Queen Mother going first, of course) would lead to a period of funereal music on all networks. A BBC executive denied that was the plan; September 1997 proved that to be a half-truth - it might not have quite been funereal, but we did come close to death by ambience.

One small break in this po-faced parade, though, was Jo Whiley, who slipped There Is A Light That Never Goes Out onto her show. Whether we'd have got more apt-but-awkward songs during the week, we never found out, as Jo went off sick shortly afterwards.

Our favourite story about Radio One's tolerance for songs also features The Smiths. At the time of Shoplifters Of The World Unite, John Walters used his diary slot to tell Janice about the meeting convened to decide if the track was acceptable for daytime play. In the end, the pro-Morrissey vote carried the day, but only after convincing stragglers the repeated mantra of "hand it over, hand it over" meant the song was to be understood as an injunction to shoplifters to give back their ill-gotten gains.

[Part of Radio One More Time]


4 comments:

James said...

Another bizarre edit for you; During the Gulf War, Radio 1 lopped the 'machine-gun' sound effect off the intro to KLF's 3AM Eternal, thinking it might offend. And let's not get into their decision to drop the normally-heavy rotation of Hot Hot Heat's 'Bandages' during the early days of the Iraq war because, you know, war, injuries, bandages, someone's bound to complain, etc...

I remember when Diana died, Radio 1 had about three mournful tracks which played all Sunday (one was the instrumental version of the Aloof's 'One Night Stand'). The only interjection, besides the news, was a sorrowful Mark Goodier explaining what was happening. I can still hear him now, ending his announcement with "It also means that today, there will be no Top 40", said with the sort of gravitas that suggested "You see how awful this news is?! We don't drop the Top 40 for ANYTHING!".

CarsmileSteve said...

and we can't let this go without mentioning Kevin Greiving who was on breakfast that week playing sad songs and reading out listeners stories...

James said...

Ah yes, that must've been a fun job to take on. I remember his first tentative joke a couple of days into the shift, about two days after the crash. The England football team were getting crucified in the tabloids for going ahead with a midweek match (apparently it was disrespectful to be playing football at this tragic time, or something). Greening explained how difficult it was to be on the radio, not knowing how the audience wanted him to come across. He added "When I come in each morning and I look at that chair, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather not be. Except possibly the England Football team"

Simon said...

Mike 'My Creed' Read claims otherwise here http://observer.guardian.co.uk/omm/story/0,,2167579,00.html. I don't believe him though.

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