‘‘ T H E  P L A T T E R  C H A T T E R  T H A T  M A T T E R S ’’

The Birth of Top 40 Radio...

The term "Top 40" for a radio format first appeared in 1960.

At his radio station KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska. Todd Storz invented the format by using what he saw from the repetition of plays on the jukebox to develop his platform.

The format was commercially successful, and Storz and his father Robert, under the name of the Storz Broadcasting Company, subsequently acquired other stations to use the new Top 40.

The Top 40 became a survey of the popularity of 45 rpm singles and their airplay on the radio. Some nationally syndicated radio shows featured a countdown of the 40 highest ranked songs on a particular music or entertainment publication.

Although such publications often listed more than 40 charted hits, such as the Billboard Hot 100, time constraints allowed for the airing of only 40 songs, hence, the term "top 40" gradually became part of the vernacular associated with popular music. And it remains in play today.

   A N D  R E C E N T L Y  A D D E D:

John Peel

Peel was born John Robert Parker Ravenscroft in Heswell, near Liverpool in northwest England, on August 30, 1939, the son of an upper middle-class cotton merchant.

It was as a child, listening to recorded music programs on U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Radio Luxembourg, that Peel thought he might like to become a radio presenter, and his encounter with the rock and roll music of Elvis Presley in the mid-1950s deepened his interest in popular music.

John was sent away from home at 13 to be educated at the prestigious Shrewsbury School in Shropshire. After finishing school Peel worked briefly in the cotton industry. His father shrewdly got him a job for one of his competitors. Then from 1957 to 1959 he served as a radar operator in the Royal Artillery of the British army.

Following his discharge, Peel headed for Dallas, Texas, telling his family that he could learn more about the cotton business there. But he soon became more engrossed in his musical interests. After meeting a disc jockey named Russ Knight, known as "The Weird Beard," Peel landed a small slot (called "Kats Karavan") playing rhythm and blues records on Dallas radio station WRR.

John's radio debut on Dallas station WRR. Clip from the BBC documentary series Radio Radio. [ LISTEN ] (0:45)

For several years he made ends meet by selling storm insurance to Texas farmers, and in 1963, claiming that he was a correspondent for a Liverpool newspaper, he talked his way into the press conference, which turned out to be the one at which John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. John also made a stop at station KLIF.

"John Ravenscroft"
John moved to Oklahoma City to join KOMA, where he spent the next 18 months. Peel's English accent was a professional asset in the United States from the start, and the mania for the Beatles that swept the country beginning in 1964 accelerated his radio career. Hints he might be acquainted with Beatle George Harrison earned Peel a legion of teenage female admirers, including, 15-year-old Shirley Anne Milburn, whom he was married to from 1965-71.

John was paired up with a comedy jock on the breakfast show, but his northern wit was lost on his partner and he was soon shipped off to an evening slot before eventually being given the boot by KOMA. He went off to work in California where, as he described, started taking drugs and leading a generally depraved kind of life.

John ended up finding his feet at KMEN radio in San Bernardino, California. In Dallas and Oklahoma he had reluctantly stuck to the playlist, playing popular tracks for screaming teeny-boppers and Beatles fans. But at KMEN he played whatever he liked. San Bernardino was only 60 miles east of Los Angeles, an ideal location for checking out gigs and hanging out with bands.

LSD was everywhere, bands like The Yardbirds and The Doors were hot names to drop and Peel was right there in the middle of it all, sucking up music and spinning records as fast as he could find them.

He started to play blues things, Doors, Love, Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane. he worked there for 18 months and then ran foul of the law and thought he'd better leave. Music legend has it that San Bernardino's local sheriff had it in for KMEN and its radical DJs. Fearing the slammer and possible deportation, John booked a flight under his middle name and flew back to the UK, leaving his American career behind.

Peel's first radio slot in Britain was on a pirate station called Wonderful Radio London, broadcasting from a converted minesweeper in the North Sea (and actually established by a Texas salesman, Don Pierson). He arrived on Big L in February, and as usual for the most junior presenter, he was given two air shifts, covering for whoever was on leave and taking care of the midnight-2am slot.

The Perfumed Garden
Broadcasting under his new name of John Peel, he quickly discovered that none of his colleagues - either on the ship or in the Curzon Street offices - were paying much attention to what he was playing at that time of night. John decided to try an experiment. The format was dispensed with, the Fab 40 stayed in its rack and he unleashed "The Perfumed Garden" on an unsuspecting audience.

John's Perfumed Garden on Radio London, July 16, 1967. [ LISTEN ] (3:57)

It was the time of hippies, flower power and underground music. In Britain and America bands were experimenting. Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, Country Joe & the Fish, the Incredible String Band, Tyrannosaurus Rex and many others had never been heard on British radio before. Peel played them. There is an apocryphal tale that the first the Radio London management knew of the new programme was when Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, telephoned to congratulate them on it. By then The Perfumed Garden had already taken root and begun to flourish. For many listeners throughout Europe, it was John Peel who turned them on to a whole world of new music.

DeeJay and Radio Monthly
magazine was a short-lived UK publication featuring DJs and the stations that played pop music. It included charts and music news. The October, 1972 issue featured Peel on the cover back.
Peel aired an experimental American band with folk roots, the Grateful Dead. He also liked mainstream English folk-rock such as the music of Fairport Convention. Wonderful Radio London was shut down after several months of operation, and Peel was hired by the British Broadcasting Corporation for its new Radio 1 popular music service.

Peel championed the early recordings of the unclassifiable psychedelic band T. Rex (originally Tyrannosaurus Rex) and did much to introduce the music of experimentalists such as Jimi Hendrix and Captain Beefheart to British audiences on his "Night Ride" (later "The John Peel Show") and "Top Gear" programs.

Peel's influence extended beyond radio; the Dandelion label, which he operated between 1968 and 1972, was a financial failure, but many LPs issued on the label are prized collectors' items. Peel hosted thousands of bands on what became known as the Peel Sessions after he began issuing them on his own Strange Fruit label in the mid-1980s.

John and Sheila
As Peel's popularity grew, an appearance on his show became an eagerly sought-after career boost for young bands. Peel was generous with his time, trying to listen to all of the numerous demonstration tapes sent his way, and he sometimes fronted money to promising musicians for equipment and even transportation. He began a long association with the Glastonbury Festival, a large outdoor rock event, in 1971. In 1974 Peel married Sheila Gilhooly, and the two raised two sons and two daughters.

Sometimes he said that he selected music for his shows that did not fit into any category he had heard before, and his enthusiasm ranged from the enormously popular Rod Stewart and the Faces, and later on the dance duo the Pet Shop Boys, to experimental German noise ensembles, to reggae and hip-hop, to (well in advance of other radio programmers) music from around the world. In terms of sheer influence his high-water mark was probably his championing of punk rock beginning in 1976, when bands such as the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Undertones (whose "Teenage Kicks" was Peel's favorite song) had very few footholds in the music scene beyond the small clubs where they played.

The few musical scenesters who did not get along with Peel questioned the commitment of the middle-aged, conventionally dressed, private-school-educated disc jockey to the angry new music. Yet Peel's liking for punk and new wave rock continued into the 1980s through several generations of the music. Such bands as the Fall, XTC, the Smiths, and the political punk-folk pioneer Billy Bragg all got play on his program and owed much of their success to him.

In the 1990s and early 2000s Peel completed his long transition from rebel pirate broadcaster to British national institution. A confirmed "Liverpudlian," he was renowned for his devotion to the Liverpool FC soccer team. He won several awards, including a Godlike Genius award in 1994 from the music magazine Melody Maker , which had often named him DJ of the Year, and he received the Order of the British Empire in 1998. Even as he approached senior citizen status, however, Peel kept his ability to identify promising musical developments.

One of his Peel Session guests in the mid-1990s was American rock duo the White Stripes, early in its career; another was the alternative-country vocalist Neko Case. Peel also branched out beyond his usual shows, hosting a variety of BBC documentaries in the 1990s. In 1998 he started a new series on the BBC 4 network called Home Truths , a family interview program that bore little resemblance in atmosphere to his punk-rock programming but nevertheless found a large audience. His quietly conversational on-air style, much imitated, proved transferable to new kinds of programs.

Peel was riding high in 2004 with a 1.5-million pound advance on his autobiography in the bank, a new grandchild, and a continuing commitment to his BBC 1 show even after passing the age of 65. The John Peel Show remained fresh and personal, including in later years a feature called "Pig's Big 78," showcasing a 78 rpm record selected by Peel's affectionately nicknamed wife, Sheila. Peel was heard around the world on broadcasts by the BBC's International Service, increasingly marketed to local broadcasters in other countries as well as to low fidelity shortwave radio. Peel lived with his family in the Suffolk region, in a country house he called Peel Acres, complete with a flock of chickens. Peel and his wife headed for Cuzco, Peru, on what was described as a working vacation. He had already been suffering with problems related to diabetes, and while in Peru he died from a sudden heart attack on October 25, 2004.


Some materials found on this page were originally published by the following: PKM, Off Shore Radio.
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...and In Rode the Disc Jockeys

“DJs” have had a key role in shaping radio listener's musical tastes since the 1950s. They reflected national and local musical trends, exposed audiences to new music, and in some cases produced records and managed artists. Many DJs became celebrities, actively engaged and influential in the national music scene.

DJs came into being as a result of changes in the radio industry after the advent of television in the 1950s. In the earlier years of radio broadcasting, programming featured mainly live entertainment such as dramas, comedy acts, and studio orchestras and singers. When television came into widespread use, the audience for this type of programming largely abandoned radio for the new medium. In response, radio stations began offering a new type of entertainment by having their announcers play records on the air.

Thus was born the “disc jockey” or “DJ.”