Fifty years ago - at 4.00pm on Saturday 25th July 1964 to be precise (the first record played was Rag Doll by the Four Seasons) - a young singer-turned-disc-jockey presented his first-ever show on the offshore 'pirate' station Radio Caroline, which had launched at Easter that year.
Since then Tony Blackburn has been on our radios throughout that time and at an age when many people are happy to enjoy a quiet retirement he remains as busy as ever with Pick of the Pops on Saturday lunchtimes on BBC Radio 2, as well as occasional Bank Holiday specials, regular shows on several BBC local radio stations and also for commercial radio at KMFM in Kent and the Magic AM Network.
That's a busy schedule for anybody which puts many people more than half his age to shame. Tony's also an enthusiastic adopter of new technology and a regular user of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
I've been a fan of Tony Blackburn ever since he was on the offshore pirate stations in the mid-1960s, as well as the first-ever presenter on BBC Radio 1 in 1967, and his was the show I'd listen to while getting ready for school.
To many of my classmates at the time Tony was seen as the antithesis to everything that was "cool"; after all he liked pop music and Motown singles rather than album tracks from artists such as Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart or whichever band was being championed by the late John Peel that week. He also told corny jokes and sounded bright, rather than the low-key presentation adopted by Radio 1's "serious" DJs such as Peel, Bob Harris and Pete Drummond.
As a radio fan (the term "anorak" hadn't appeared at that time), though, I enjoyed Tony's shows because he was a "slick operator" and I was able to appreciate, and begin to understand, the qualities needed to do a fast-moving show like that. On the breakfast show I felt he struck the right chord., whereas Peel & co were rmore suitable for the evening or late at night, when people were more likely to listen because they had time to do so properly, rather than use the radio as the background to their breakfast/morning routine.
|Tony at Capital Gold for his 25th anniversary in 1989|
I remember on one occasion, after falling off his roller skates (don't ask!) at a 'Capital Gold Listeners' Night', he fractured his wrist, which meant his right-arm was in plaster for several weeks and he had to take some time off. After a week or so of having to stay at home he was, understandably, itching to get back on air.
Around that time the station was having to close down overnight because of engineering work to upgrade the transmitter, which meant the Capital Gold studio would be empty.
Tony asked if he could come in during those off-air hours to 'practice' using the studio in his current condition to see just how much he could do. To his delight, and probably surprise, he was able to drive most of the desk and get CDs from the studio rack (we used the Denon CD cart machines). The only difficulty he had was using the DAMS commercial playout system, but that was solved by getting his producer to key-in the ads for each break and he was then able to press the 'Start' button.
Now that's what I call professionalism.
In 1989 Tony received the Radio Academy's Gold Award to mark 25 years in radio. Earlier this year he became the first person ever to receive this 'Lifetime Achievement' award for a second time for his 50th anniversary.
I believe the most important factor in Tony Blackburn's continuing success is that he is a true radio personality in an era where few 'personality' presenters exist; whether because (thanks to poor programmers and programming) they've been stifled or because, frankly, some of them never had a proper personality in the first place. His style is always "up" and he's still one of the best in the business when it comes to "selling" the station, the music and the show.