A birthday celebration of Annie Nightingale, forever with the times
March 31, 2018 9:08 PM   Subscribe

[NOT AN OBITUARY] Annie Nightingale, MBE, is an impressive woman who has made a lasting mark on British music, and she's still going strong. Starting as a journalist in the the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, in a period that also overlapped with her start on the BBC, first as a panelist as a panelist on Juke Box Jury in 1963. When Annie joined BBC Radio 1 in 1970, already a respected music journalist, she was Britain's first female DJ. And she's still going, now with the distinction of being longest serving presenter on Radio 1. On radio and on TV, she has constantly evolved her musical tastes with the times. You can hear that to this day with BBC's (shallow) archive of recent Annie Nightingale Presents ... episodes. More celebrations of Ms. Nightingale below the break.

DJ, take it back!

After her 1963 panelist experience on Juke Box Jury, she contributed to Woman's Hour in 1964, and then hosted programmes on the in 1966, where she brought her music journalism background and experience to the airwaves. Three years after her stint on the BBC Light Programme (which would be rebranded as BBC Radio 2 in 1967), she started her tenure on Radio 1 as the host of a Sunday evening show; it would be 12 years before BBC Radio 1 hired another female DJ. In the early 1970s she hosted the singles review show What's New before moving to a late-night progressive rock show, which was simulcast on the Radio 2 FM frequency.

Ms. Nightingale presented The Old Grey Whistle Test (previously) from 1978 to 1982, shifting the coverage from Bob Harris' tenure from 1972 until December 1979, where he presented country music, blues rock and progressive rock, while she embraced popular modern styles such as punk rock and new wave. She talked about her tenure as a presenter in August 2017:
I’d done other shows with the Whistle Test production team, so I suppose I was the go-to person when Bob stood down. I had no problem with punk. I’d been playing it on Radio 1 since 1976. The bands knew me, but a lot of them – like the Clash – had refused to be on the show because it represented everything they were trying to overthrow. But we didn’t change overnight. We still had prog bands on, and I was a huge fan of King Crimson.
She turned OGWT into a launching pad for new bands in the UK and US bands who weren't know on the other side of the pond, and she spoke about working with a nervous Gary Numan when he was with The Tubeway Army, the destructive punk rockers The Damned, and a cheeky Jeff Beck. Speaking of cheeky, here's a clip of her interviewing Paul Simon, and she shows off some of her musical journalist chops in a 1978 interview with Elton John. To display some of that new musical diversity, here's Annie introducing The Jags and their song "Tune Into Heaven", some jangly power-pop/new wave.

She had begun The Sunday Request Show in September 1975, originally on Sunday afternoons, until the end of 1979. It began its second and most famous run in December 1982, for most of its run in a slot immediately after the Top 40. Initially commissioned to fill a three month slot, such was the popularity of Annie and the show that it was extended for a further 12 years! Here's a snippet of her reading letters from cheeky fans in the 1980s; and for samples of that era (and some to follow), here are some audio clips from 1985, 1986 and c1997. Also, it was on that show that she was the first DJ on British radio to play music from CDs.

In 1994, Annie moved back to a weekend night-time show, but now focused on electronic dance music. Initially called The Chill Out Zone, followed by Annie on One, which was hinted at by a compilation of the same name that was released in 1996 as "a selection of favourites from Annie Nightingale's Chill Out Zone," including Sabres of Paradise, Daft Punk and T-Power. For a later sound of her show, here's a mix from Way Out West in 2003.

Rewinding a few years, it was after a violent mugging in 1996 that Annie donned the now-iconic dark shades, an event that made her a stronger, less easy-going person. In this same interview in 2008, Annie talks about her friendship with the Beatles, reminding you of her longevity and expansive range of connections to varied worlds of music.

That range, and the duration of her dedication, earned her the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2000 "for services to broadcasting. As to recognition by her musical peers, she was awarded Caner of the Year for 2001, by Muzik Magazine (1995-2003), and she was the first female presenter from BBC Radio 1 to join the Radio Academy Hall of Fame. 2009 marked her 3rd straight win as Best Radio Show in the International Breakspoll Awards, what she described as a very "blokey" scene, with few women gaining recognition. The following year, Annie Nightingale has been given a Guinness World Record for having the longest career as a female radio presenter.

In 2007, along with nabbing the Breakspoll award, she also released a Y4K compilation of her own (Discogs; samples on Amazon), and a very diverse 3CD compilation for Ministry of Sound in 2015 titled Masterpiece (Discogs; Youtube "trailer" mix and a different mini-mix on Soundcloud).

In 2012, Ms. Nightingale received honorary doctorate from the University of Westminster, her alma mater of sorts -- Annie was a former journalism student of the Polytechnic of Central London, the forerunner to the University of Westminster.

In a segment that first aired in 2013, titled Upping the Tempo (not currently streaming), Jane Garvey talked with Annie about her history as a radio first. On the Women's Hour in a segment that was broadcast on 8 July 2015, Annie Nightingale looked back on her 45 year career as a DJ at Radio 1. That same year, she reflected on her Masterpiece compilation:
Your new Masterpiece compilation is a celebration of 50 years in the business – how does that make you feel?
I think: “No, it can’t be.” I’m always living in the future, because I’m planning a show which happens every fortnight. For me, it’s less about the 50 years and more about the track-listing.
In celebration of 50 years of Radio 1 in September 2017, Annie talked about how the radio pirates of old shaped radio expectations for "we post-war kids," sexism in radio ("BBC said said DJs are husband substitutes for housewives"), and the sound of the underground.

April 1st is her birthday, and there's no sign that Ms. Nightingale is going to stop any time soon. You can follow her on Twitter (@AANightingale) or befriend her on Facebook (AnnieNightingale.DJ) and check the DJs and producers she promotes every week in her show, Annie Nightingale presents... "the biggest bass bangers." Rock on, Annie!
posted by filthy light thief (12 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Not mentioned in the post: Nightingale has published two autobiographical books: Chase The Fade (1981; Goodreads, Amazon) and Wicked Speed (1999; Goodreads, Amazon with a preview). Speaking of books, here's Annie's list of "books that changed my life", from Reader's Digest.

And back in May 2011, she was featured in the BBC Four documentary Annie Nightingale: Bird on the Wireless (not currently streaming on the iPlayer).

There are tons of other events and highlights that I haven't even touched on here, and a few of those are covered in Telegraphs's list of some career highlights, as of 2011 - for example, she went on tour with The Police in 1980, and then with Karl Smith & Rick Smith from Underworld in 1983. And she was presented with the Woman of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award ... in 1998!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 PM on March 31, 2018

I don't know who this is, but I appreciate the "not an obituary" preface. All too often I'm halfway through an article before I realize there's been no mention of death and the person is still alive.
posted by FallowKing at 10:28 PM on March 31, 2018

I was a regular listener of her Request Show in the late '80s and fondly recall the warm glow of satisfaction I felt on the couple of occasions she played requests I'd sent in. Someone's put a YouTube playlist together of Late 80's Annie Nightingale Request Show favourites which definitely rings a few familiar bells for me.
posted by misteraitch at 12:04 AM on April 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Happy birthday Annie! She is an absolute legend and thank you for this wonderful post that definitely does her justice!
posted by ellieBOA at 12:04 AM on April 1, 2018

I don't know who this is, but I appreciate the "not an obituary" preface
(Particularly for April 1st posts.)
It might be difficult for foreigners and - and maybe also Brits younger than generation X - to appreciate just how culturally important radio and TV presenters once were. The BBC provided one radio station for popular music and it spent most of the time running a narrow playlist in service of big ego (male) day time DJs. If nobody was playing a wider selection of music then nobody would be hearing it, buying it, listening to it. I remember Annie Nightingale's request show acting as a bridge linking listeners brought in by the immediately preceding top 40 show - to a much more eclectic and spicy musical world. If she had not been in that precise place, doing that precise thing and doing it so well - then it would not have happened. It was, of course, important that it happened to be a woman doing this - but it was equally culturally important that all this musical breaking of new artists was being done by somebody old enough to be first your mum - and then your grannie.
posted by rongorongo at 12:21 AM on April 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is great, thanks. Can we have a notanobit tag? Would be good to be able to find posts like this via tag.
posted by paduasoy at 4:45 AM on April 1, 2018

As long as we're celebrating British women in music, please raise a glass to Dame Vera Lynn who recently celebrated her 101st birthday.
posted by BWA at 7:53 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

rongorongo, thanks for that context. I forget how locked down UK radio was, even after recently watching The Last Pirates: Britain's Rebel DJs (not currently streaming on the iPlayer), which covers the radio pirates of the 1980s on.

To be honest, I had heard Annie Nightingale's name for years, as a presenter of dance music on BBC Radio 1. I only recently heard a show of hers, and I was struck by two things. First, she sounded older than I had expected, and second, she was clearly a huge fan of the music she was playing. And thus I fell down this particular rabbit hole, ahead of her birthday.

One final link in this tangent: of the "15 most important women in EDM, as picked by Complex in 2013, 4 are (in part) radio presenters, though 1 (Mary Ann Hobbs) is no longer focused on dance music.

This is great, thanks. Can we have a notanobit tag? Would be good to be able to find posts like this via tag.

I chose the "nobit" tag, which was first used back in April 2016, but mostly thanks to the December 2017 Best Post Contest.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a note to say that Annie has re-tweeted a link to this post here.
posted by rongorongo at 1:17 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ooh, neat! Thanks for sharing!

So who's John Kane, Scottish Green Party candidate South Lanarkshire local elections 2017, on MetaFilter?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:49 AM on April 2, 2018

Hi Annie, we love you!
posted by ellieBOA at 11:18 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm really interested in the part in the Telegraph interview linked above - where Annie talks about what drives her musical interests:
... I'm scared of nostalgia. You can't go back. It's in its box. I get terribly affected by music and if it's a tune that I associate with something bad happening in my life… Well, I was once diagnosed as melancholic, which is a posh name for depression, I think. As a matter of self-preservation I will only listen to up music. I don't like to wallow in self-pity.'
Some just fixate on having a huge record collection, but I guess most of us have a knowledge of music that peaks in the years when we were in our teens and early twenties . To nostalgics, it is this era that is overwhelmingly important; anything ore up to date is rubbish. For those who go the other way - always chasing after what is new and pretty uninterested in the back catalogue, we normally ascribe child-like qualities: positively - openness but negatively,the refusal to grow up. But that idea of always being on the run, in terms of taste, so as to escape the baggage of the past - innovation through compulsion - is more unusual.
posted by rongorongo at 8:10 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

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