12 January 2024

Annie Nightingale: First female DJ on BBC Radio 1 and broadcasting trailblazer

12 January 2024

Annie Nightingale was a trailblazer in the world of broadcasting, having become the first woman to DJ on BBC Radio 1 during a time where misogyny pervaded the industry.

The radio station’s longest-serving presenter supported waves of popular music genres including prog rock, German electronica, punk, acid house and grime and her powerful influence on the world of British music culture cannot be understated.

The DJ said she faced a “huge lot of opposition” going into radio in an interview for the BBC Centenary Collection in 2018.

“What the hell is it about radio that it has to be male”, she said.

“This was my battle.”

Nightingale started out as a journalist based in Brighton and she first broadcast on the BBC in 1963 as a panellist on TV show Juke Box Jury.

She joined Radio 1 seven years later in 1970 and remained the station’s only female DJ until 1982, when Janice Long started hosting a Saturday evening show.

Nightingale is credited with helping to pave the way for the likes of Sara Cox, Jo Whiley and Zoe Ball.

She was also the first woman to present music show The Old Grey Whistle Test, from 1978, which featured live performance from artists as diverse as Bob Marley, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Roxy Music and Randy Newman.

As a DJ she travelled the world, and she once told The Independent that she had been “mugged in Cuba, drugged in Baghdad and bugged in Russia”.

Nightingale received an MBE in 2002 and a CBE in the New Year Honours list in December 2019 for services to radio, which she described as the “coolest big-up ever”.

In the BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs, she told host Lauren Laverne that radio had “such an effect” on her, the first word she tried to say was “music”.

Also on the radio programme, which aired in 2020, she revealed she knew about John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship before it was made public, but did not report the story for fear of breaking her bond of trust with The Beatles.

The DJ was a frequent guest at the band’s Apple Studios in London during the 1960s and she had a front-row seat to one of the most creative periods in British popular music.

She also spoke to host Laverne about the sexism she faced entering the industry and said her request to become a DJ was initially turned down because she was a woman.

Nightingale said: “They came out with this wonderful line, they said ‘our disc jockeys are husband substitutes’. Which I thought was an extraordinary thing to say.

They would say, ‘why would a woman want to be a DJ?’. They were bewildered

“That set up a lot of assumptions that all the women pop fans were housewives at home doing the ironing. And they would say, ‘why would a woman want to be a DJ?’. They were bewildered.”

Nightingale was asked by The Ministry Of Sound to curate a Masterpiece compilation CD in 2015 which featured tracks from the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Joy Division and The Who.

Her memoir Hey Hi Hello was released in 2020 and offered a look back at her five decades at the forefront of popular music culture in Britain.

A scholarship for female and non-binary music DJs, named after Nightingale, with aims to “celebrate and elevate talented women and non-binary people in the electronic music scene” was launched by BBC Radio 1 in 2021.

Nightingale remained on air until late last year with Annie Nightingale Presents.

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