Happy Fathers Day, everyone! Hope your pappy is happy, and you got him some good music to share and enjoy together. I’m not saying you should bring your dad to a show, but sit and listen to an album together sometime.
So, who’s Johnnie Walker? Well!
Born Peter Waters Dingley on March 30th, 1945, Johnnie Walker got his start as a broadcast jock on Swinging Radio England in 1966 after spending a few years as a tavern DJ. He soon made his move to Radio Caroline, and was one of the three disc jockeys to stay with the station despite the Marine Offenses Act that shut down the pirate stations in 1967. However, it did not last forever as he eventually went back ashore, and became a legit DJ for BBC Radio 1 in 1969,
His delivery was legendary, zipping around the lyrics and intros of the songs, but always focusing on the greatness of the music he was playing. He was also controversial in that he was never afraid to hide his opinion. In 1976, he was fired from BBC Radio 1 for referred to the Bay City Rollers as ‘musical garbage’ on the air. As a result, he left for America, to work on San Francisco’s KSAN and WFHS in Bathesda, Maryland, while still recording shows to be aired on Radio Luxembourg.
In the 80’s, he bounced around the different BBC channels before settling at Radio 2 from 1997 until 2003 when he announced he had cancer and would take time off to recover. He returned to Radio 2’s drivetime slot in March 2004, where he was a mainstay until 2006. Recently, his work has included a miniseries entitled “Pirate Johnny Walker,” which featured interviews with fellow pirate jocks, and attempted to recreate the sound of the era; additionally, he hosts “Sounds of the Seventies” on Radio 2, and served as a consultant to the film The Boat that Rocked (AKA, Pirate Radio, as it was titled here in the states).
He was awarded an MBE in 2006, for his services to Broadcasting.
Anyone with a good ear and taste for broadcast radio can note the difference in style between the Americans and the British. Likewise, as time moves forward, jocks rely less on the music itself and more on developing their own personalities. What has been lost is the idea that a jockey can be informative and entertaining with their own unique personality without having to sacrifice the music. What the pirates — and Johnnie Walker in particular — show, is a sense of wild abandon. Radio is meant to be a non-stop party, and nobody cares about the disc jockey’s pets or kids that they have to sit through two minutes of discussion. Play the damn music! Play it! It’s the focus on their “personalities” that has done away with vets like Wolfman Jack or Cousin Brucie here in the states, in favor of ‘regular guy’ personalities.
It’s a blessing that the British jocks still have jobs, long after their start as being considered as common criminals.
And now, without further ado, an air check of a Johnnie Walker show from 1968, from Radio Caroline.
An interview from 1987 about pirate radio.
And in case you were wondering, his theme music is Duane Eddy’s “Because They Are Young.”
You may have noticed that a big part of pirate radio were the station’s jingles. There’s another video of the PAMS crew putting together the retro jingles for Johnnie’s retrospective program “Pirate Johnnie Walker,” and plenty of the original station jingles and even a few commercials can be found over at Norman Barrington’s Radio Pages (there are two separate links here, by the way (and on another digression, Norman Barrington was also a pirate jock on Radio Caroline in the 70’s)). A lot of them are classic PAMS-style jingles!
And the Electric Comic Book reminds you to go to the church of your choice.
UPDATE: One extra video to post, Johnnie Walker’s “Pirate D.J.’s Lament,” broadcast on August 14th, 1967. It was a declaration of the glory of the pirate station, the truth found in free music, and heroics of defiance against unjust laws that object to art or fun. It was delivered as all of the pirate stations were shutting down in the face of the Marine Offenses Act. When the nine (or so) stations shut down, the only two to last were Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South. In the North, there was Don Allen, who wasn’t affected by the law as he was a Canadian citizen, and a new team of DJs coming out as the vets were leaving. Aboard the MV Mi Amigo, there was Johnnie Walker, Robbie Dale, and Ross Brown.