What's the story behind National DJ Day?

National DJ Day is celebrated annually on 20 January to recognise and celebrate the work of our favourite disc jockeys.

This also marks the date that Alan Freed aka "Moondog", one of the world’s most celebrated DJ’s, died.

Alan Freed was famous for popularising Rock ‘n’ Roll music through his radio show in 1950’s America – he’s even credited as the first person to coin the term.

What music means to a DJ

Bring the Noise caught up with one of the nation’s favourite radio presenters – Chris Hawkins from BBC Radio 6 Music.

Chris started his radio career doing work experience at his local radio station BBC Radio Shropshire.

During his studies at Nottingham University, he continued to pursue his passion by hosting the drive time show at BBC Radio Nottingham in his third year of university – even leaving one of his exams early to do the show.

Chris opens up about what music means to him, DJing in his garage aged 12, and why it’s important for children to create musical memories that last a lifetime.

Alan Freed was a DJ who championed Rock 'n' Roll music in the 1950s
Chris Hawkins is a radio presenter on BBC Radio 6 Music.

What is your favourite song and why?

"My top ten is always changing but one of my all-time favourites is Once In a Lifetime by Talking Heads. It’s an incredible, masterpiece of a song."

Did you always envision yourself working in a role that is so closely connected to music?

"I am so lucky to have my dream job. I get to play music on the radio - it’s what I always wanted."

Do you remember the first song you played on the radio?

"Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl on Radio Nottingham. It was one of the best (and most nerve wracking) moments of my life."

What does music mean to you?

"The world! Music soundtracks every day of my life. Obviously there’s my 6 Music show but if you think about it, not many hours in the day go by without you hearing music. It can make you feel amazing, sad, or thoughtful."

The thrills of being a radio DJ

Bring the Noise is focused around inspiring children aged four to seven-years-old to get involved with music-making in any capacity, but self-admittedly it didn’t come naturally to Chris. However, he realised he could use music in more ways than one, "I played the recorder (badly) at school and tried the drums. I really enjoyed trying but I was terrible."

"I am so lucky to play music for my job and one of the great thrills of being on radio is when listeners get in touch to say how much they’ve enjoyed a song I’ve played."

"Music can completely turn a band mood into a good one. Sometimes you just want to wallow in anger or sadness and I might put on some Nick Cave. When I’m feeling good - maybe getting ready to go out, I’ll listen to dance music - or cheesy 80s classics."

The love of music and its impact on a child's development

Research shows that music education can benefit a child’s emotional, social and intellectual development, and helps them in other areas by speeding the development of speech and reading skills, training children to focus their attention for sustained periods and helping children gain a sense of empathy.

As a result, Chris mirrors this when he explains why he believes it’s important for teachers and parents to engage their children in music-making from a young age, "Music is a great way for children to appreciate lyrics as poetry. Learning to sing or play an instrument is not just about the process but about the disciplines of rhythm and timing."

"I had music lessons at school and had great teachers. They were so passionate about their teaching and were fun. That made a big difference - it was never like an actual lesson."

This early love for music continued to develop throughout his life, and Chris hopes to instil the same love in his own daughter. His advice for other parents: "Make it fun! It’s a great way for parents to engage with children.

"Kids love music as much as we did at their age - they just listen to it in different ways now. My daughter discovers most of her music on Tik Tok."

"I am so lucky to play music for my job and one of the great thrills of being on radio is when listeners get in touch to say how much they’ve enjoyed a song I’ve played," said Chris Hawkins.

Do you think music has helped you in your life?

"For sure - music is a great way of jogging your memory. Songs can remind you of particular times in your life - like every time I hear Radiohead I think of a brilliant time at the V Festival and I played One Day Like This by Elbow as my wife and I carried our baby daughter into our home for the first time.

I can vividly remember buying my first ever song from an independent record shop in Shrewsbury - a big power balled called ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ by Foreigner. I remember the black sleeve with a big silver F on the front. I used to love the smell of that record shop!

It’s scientifically proven that the music you listen to as a child - certainly your teens - will stick with you for life. I can still remember all the words to songs I loved as a kid. It’s interesting, songs can mean different things to you at different times and ages.

Music has been a huge influence on my life - when I was 12 I set up make-shift DJ decks and had disco in my parent’s garage. Only my two sisters came but I loved seeing their faces change and light up when I played their favourite songs."

"I played One Day Like This by Elbow as my wife and I carried our baby daughter into our home for the first time," said Chris Hawkins.

The psychological impact behind nostalgia

This music nostalgia isn’t uncommon, it’s a well-established psychological phenomenon known as the 'reminiscence bump' - a period of our lives from which we’re able to remember more events and memories than any other. This is usually between the age of 10 and 30 when the brain’s memory systems are most efficient, and particularly during our late teens and early twenties.

Researchers have found evidence that suggests our brains latch onto the music we hear during this time more than anything we hear as adults.

It’s also during this time that we experience a lot of things for the first time, and with music so strongly intertwined with our social lives and used to help regulate emotions, research suggests that this could be why the music that’s most important to us is usually associated with a particularly pivotal or influential person, place or time. Our brains forge neural connections to songs and can transport us back to a moment in time when we hear it later on in life.

What’s the most challenging thing about being a DJ, and what do you love the most about working in the music DJ/industry?

"Working at 6 Music means playing a fantastic mix of both old and brand new music. I love searching for new music - I love hearing songs for the first time and I feel like it’s a great privilege to share that music with listeners.

It’s always great getting instant feedback from listeners as the music plays. Also, when I DJ at festivals, clubs, or parties it’s such a buzz; reading the crowd and playing stuff people love - especially when you surprise them with something they weren’t expecting."

"Music has been a huge influence on my life - when I was 12 I set up make-shift DJ decks and had disco in my parent’s garage", says Chris Hawkins.

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