It's All Happening at the Zoo
Paul Gambaccini continues his six-part history of music radio in the UK and USA. The fifth programme traces developments from the late 70s to the beginning of the 90s.
Pirate radio, which had not been an important factor in British music radio in over a decade, once again became the talk of the streets. Broadcast from a ship in the North Sea Laser 558, like its 60s' predecessors, had an AM signal with a large geographical coverage. But illegal stations in the 80s often originated on land and transmitted locally using the FM band. Trevor Nelson recalls his pirate days with Kiss FM - a station that provided a distinctive black music mix not heard on legal radio. Kiss eventually won a licence to be a dance music service for London.
In America, a new format was pioneered by DJs Scott Shannon on Z-100 in New York and Rick Dees on KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. As Rick Dees recalls, he was one of the first DJs to be on FM "and treat it like AM". With a cast of characters, the lively and irreverent style was known as a zoo format and was in stark contrast to the previous mellow style of FM radio in the US. Steve Wright In The Afternoon was the phenomenally successful Radio 1 programme that popularized the zoo format in Britain with characters such as Mr. Angry and Dave Doubledecks.
In 1984, the syndicated Network Chart show with David Jensen was launched by the independent sector to challenge the BBC's biggest audience of the week for the Sunday afternoon Top 40 programme. Richard Park - the key programming figure in the history of UK commercial radio - arrived in London from Radio Clyde in 1987. Impressed by technical and editorial aspects of American radio, he took Capital Radio to number one in the ratings by creating the concept of the Station Sound.
In an increasingly competitive market, which had seen a proliferation of commercial stations on FM and Radio 1 broadcasting 24 hours a day for the first time, there was a clear signal of how much the music radio landscape had changed. At the end of December 1991, the early pop pioneer Radio Luxembourg ceased its transmissions in English on its 208 metres wavelength.