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Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker MBE (born Peter Waters Dingley, 30 March 1945 in Olton, Solihull, England) is a popular British veteran radio disc jockey and broadcaster. He is noted for his knowledge and love of music, his championing of new artists, and his attributing more importance to songs he plays rather than the chat in between. On 27 February 2006, Walker announced his departure from the BBC Radio 2 drive time slot he had occupied for several years. He now presents a Sunday show specialising in music from the 1970s, and occasionally deputises for other presenters when they are on leave. During his years on the drive time slot, Walker conducted many interviews, stories and features—covering less glitzy topics and bringing attention to environmental issues, spiritual experiences, musicians and artists outside of the mainstream, even alien theorists.

Links to Peel

Like John Peel, Johnnie Walker was an unhappy public school pupil who looked to pop music and radio as a relief from his school's culture of bullying and enforced conformity, as he described in the early chapters of his autobiography. Like Peel he made (and was given) his name on pirate radio - in Walker's case, on Radio Caroline, which he joined in 1966 after a short period with the American-owned (and very American-sounding) pirate station, "Swinging" Radio England, where he had been told to adopt the name Johnnie Walker. He became popular as host of an evening show on Radio Caroline, in which, like Peel, he communicated with his audience in a more personal way than the typical smooth-talking DJs of the era. His choice of music differed from that of most of his colleagues, with a concentration on soul music, at that time very popular with the teenagers who thronged discos and clubs, but not always represented in the charts. He was one of the few DJs to remain on Radio Caroline after the station became illegal in August 1967, expressing his opposition to the Labour government's forcing the other pirate stations to close down in a series of hard-hitting recorded messages, played regularly by Radio Caroline in its fight to remain on-air. In summer 1967, when Peel was presenting his late-night Perfumed Garden show on Radio London, Walker listened to the programme and, as Peel later recounted to Max Décharné (interview published in Mojo, December 2004), "Caroline and London were just about a mile apart, and Johnnie Walker used to occasionally row over to see us, which was quite nice."

Radio Caroline was eventually closed (albeit temporarily) in 1968 and Walker left, joining Peel at Radio 1 in the following year. In his autobiography he relates that because of his background as an unrepentant, anti-establishment pirate DJ he was pessimistic about finding radio work after leaving Caroline, but was persuaded by Peel's manager Clive Selwood to apply to Radio 1. He initially presented a Saturday afternoon show, but in 1971 took over the weekday early afternoon show from 1-3 p.m, in which he included the kind of album tracks usually heard on Peel's programmes and other Sounds of the Seventies evening shows. This led to conflict with the then Radio 1 controller in 1976; in his autobiography he says he was told scornfully that he was "too into the music, man" and that his contract would not be renewed if he continued to play album material. His subsequent career was to be marked by arguments with radio station bosses and programme directors.

JP with Johnnie Walker 1991-02

Johnnie Walker with Peel, February 1991 (source)

Walker quit the station and moved to the USA, working for KSAN in San Francisco, a station which had moved from the hippy underground era into the increasingly mainstream "adult-oriented rock" of the 1970s but still retained enough radicalism to be open to the arrival of punk. This lasted until a new programme director was appointed and the station's musical policy moved towards a smooth, corporate radio format. Walker objected to this and was sacked, but continued to be active as a live DJ on the Bay Area punk scene. In 1979 a phone conversation with Walker in San Francisco was broadcast on Peel's show [ref.]. He spent several years in the US, then returned to Britain and worked for various local stations before coming back to Radio 1 to present the "Saturday Sequence", until 1995, when he left the station. His association with the BBC continued, however, with a move to Radio 2, notably with the weekday Drive Time show, which he compered from 1999 until 2006 (despite having to take a 9-month break from the show after being diagnosed with cancer in 2003). He has continued to work for Radio 2, hosting the weekly Sounds of the Seventies show on Sunday afternoons - which makes him, along with Tony Blackburn, the most enduring of the pirate radio DJs who joined Radio One.

Although Johnnie Walker did not embrace the hippy and punk movements as wholeheartedly as Peel did, he respected Peel's originality and ability to connect with his listeners, and at times his playlists were influenced by Peel's shows. On his part, Peel admired Walker for his commitment to music, rather than showbiz celebrity, for his flair as a live DJ and for his willingness to challenge authority. In 1991 Walker was fired by GLR after remarking on his show that the resignation of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister would cause celebrations and street parties around the UK - sentiments with which Peel, himself no fan of Thatcher, would have sympathised  They also shared an enthusiasm for cars, with Walker taking part in stock car race meetings in the late 1960s until a crash left him requiring hospital treatment. He was among the guests at Peel's wedding, and "the excellent Johnnie Walker" (Margrave Of The Marshes, p.80) was also present at the bizarre Mallory Park incident (involving hysterical Bay City Rollers fans, Tony Blackburn and a speedboat driven by a Womble) which became one of Peel's favourite anecdotes (Margrave Of The Marshes, pp.78-81). Peel even described Walker as the best DJ Radio 1 had employed, in an article written for The Times on the station's 15th anniversary. When Peel died, Johnnie Walker paid tribute to him on the Drive Time show by interviewing Peel's manager, and the man who had encouraged him to try his luck at the BBC, Clive Selwood.

Links to mentions of Johnnie Walker in Peel shows

27 December 1969 Johnnie Walker handover

21 November 1992 JP: 'This is Buzz Hungry. Now Johnnie Walker has started to take an occasional record off me to play in his radio programmes on Saturday afternoons on 1 FM, and I gave him a handful of things from which he could choose and he said that the Buzz Hungry record was the one he liked best of those – I’m not sure if he played it, but if he did I’m jolly glad that he did.

30 October 1993 JP: ‘Johnnie Walker has just walked into the studio next door looking fresh and rather lovely actually.’

03 September 1994 JP: "People are beginning to swarm into Johnnie Walker's studio next door. He's beginning to develop a bit of a posse, actually. It's getting to the point where Kershaw and myself are the only people who don't have a posse. I feel kind of naked when I go into the programme." Johnnie Walker, preparing for his show in the adjacent studio, demands to know "the truth" about Peel and Courtney Love after being ribbed about his "posse"

21 October 1995 Johnnie Walker's final show for Radio One happened to precede Peel's in the schedule. The former's slightly bitter sign off is preserved on the available recording, with Peel bidding him "au revoir" in reply.

28 January 1996 (BFBS) JP mentions seeing Aretha Franklin in London at the end of the 1960s, having gone at the insistence of Johnnie Walker.

23 September 2004 JP describes Johnnie Walker as "one of the great men of British broadcasting".

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