A Sunday evening fixture evolves
Director of Audio & Music
Like most fathers, watching how my young sons spend their time reminds me how far technology has advanced in 30 years. As a child of the 70s and 80s, playing Jetpac on my ZX Spectrum was as cutting edge as it got. The type of graphics that can now be generated on handheld machines was beyond imagination. Now I find myself regularly looking at the latest Nintendo console or staring at my iPod shaking my head and muttering cliches like "whatever next". Therefore, it is exciting to stumble on something that has proved itself more timeless.
With this in mind I was intrigued to see the word "Rihanna" and other artists scrawled on a pad of paper sitting next to our kitchen radio. On quizzing my 10 year old he said that he wanted to get down the name of this week's Top 5 so that he could download a few of them from iTunes (unfortunately for Rihanna, she did not make the final download list). His interest in the chart and his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the Top 20 was identical to mine over 30 years ago and it speaks to the timeless appeal of a simple concept. Perhaps the only difference is that I would spend Sunday afternoons making my weekly tape by sitting my basic cassette recorder next to a radio, shamefully trying to capture the records and not the links.
The chart can be dated back to 1952 when NME collated a Top 12 based on data from 12 record shops. By the time Radio One started broadcasting in 1967, Pick of the Pops broadcast the Top 20 on Sunday afternoon with Alan Freeman at the microphone. At that point it broadcast simultaneously on Radio 2. Now Reggie Yates is hosting the programme, still revealing the number one just before seven, just as his predecessors have done for decades.
There was a time a few years ago when it seemed like the charts' glory days had faded forever. When downloads really took hold, and some believed that weekly information could be viewed as ancient history, there were those that questioned the validity of a Sunday run down. Also the end of Top of the Pops was a signal that a simple run down on prime time television can struggle to get an audience when YouTube can serve up any number of videos on request.
But at BBC Radio we are more optimistic about the chart countdown than we have been for years. Not only are we enjoying strong listener numbers to the Sunday show but increasing visitor numbers to our website. It is attracting over 700,000 unique users a week. This has been achieved not only by sticking to a brilliant formula but also adding new ideas. Recently, we've added the Mid-week Update with Greg James and added 30-second extracts of tracks to the website. We intend to keep bringing innovation to the chart and making it a focus for Radio 1.
As for those who are now well beyond their teen years, it is still worth listening to the Sunday evening countdown. Even if your musical tastes have shifted a little, and you believe that music of your era was of an infinitely better quality, listening to a head-to-head contest between JLS and Take That is a moment of radio drama that connects directly to our past and the current. So, as my son celebrated JLS overcoming Take That, I knew that he felt much like his dad when Human League (Don't You Want Me) saw off Cliff Richard (Daddy's Home) 29 years ago.
I wonder if this will hold true in another few decades?
Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music at the BBC
- Don't You Want Me? was at number one for five weeks and kept Daddy's Home off the Christmas number one spot in 1981.
- The Radio 1 chart pages include the addictive 'The Love 40' and a free podcast you can download and keep.
- Fraser McAlpine edits the always entertaining Radio 1 Chart Blog.
- The picture shows Human League in 1981. It's from the BBC's picture library.