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Radio l's policy is to cater for the very large audience which requires a pop service during the day, but at the same time it does not ignore those musicians who cater for a smaller but dedicated band of young music lovers who want their music to be progressive and experimental. These listeners have their own programme from 10 pm till midnight on medium wave and for the first time on vhf. (BBC Handbook 1972, pp.46-7)

Sounds Of The Seventies (not to be confused with the Radio 2 nostalgia series hosted first by Steve Harley, and then by Johnnie Walker) was a series of programmes launched on Radio 1 in April 1970, playing what were described as 'adventurous contemporary sounds'. It was presented by a variety of D.J.'s, including David Symonds, Bob Harris, Mike Harding (the sound engineer and rock enthusiast, not the folk singer of the same name who became presenter of Folk on 2), Stuart Henry, Pete Drummond, Alan Black, Annie Nightingale (then known as Anne), John Peel and even actor Vincent Price in 1973. The show originally ran for one hour, between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m from Monday-Thursday on Radio 1's 247m AM frequency, with John Peel's Saturday afternoon show continuing until 1971. In October of that year Sounds Of The Seventies was moved to a 10 p.m - midnight slot, the two-hour show being broadcast on the Radio 2 VHF frequency. It continued until December 1974, when financial cutbacks at the BBC forced it to be axed; of the remaining presenters, only Peel was given a new contract.

Links to Peel

By the end of the 1960s, LPs were outselling singles in the UK, but most of Radio 1's programming was still based on the singles chart. Pop singles were increasingly aimed at younger teenagers, while LPs were bought and listened to by a large audience in their late teens and early twenties. There were few chances to hear LP tracks on Radio 1, apart from Peel's Top Gear show, which regularly won awards in music press popularity polls but, despite its success, was moved in spring 1969 from its Sunday afternoon slot to less favourable times in the Radio 1 schedules. In addition, his Wednesday evening "son of Night Ride" show was taken off the air in October. Many of his listeners complained about this in letters to the BBC and the pop press, demanding more "progressive" music in the station's output.

Eventually the BBC reacted by introducing the Sounds Of The Seventies series. Peel's influence was an important factor, and SOTS producers included Bernie Andrews, John F. Muir and Jeff Griffin, all of whom had previously worked on Peel's shows. His own programmes were incorporated into the series once it moved to the 10 p.m. to midnight slot. He was given two shows per week; they were still known as Top Gear, until he was given a Friday night slot and named that programme Friday Night Is Boogie Night. However, the SOTS programmes hosted by other DJs, and the music featured in them, didn't always reflect Peel's tastes. In his Selling the Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music (London, 1992, pp. 273-74), Robert Chapman observes that, in the Sounds Of The Seventies programmes,

The new orthodoxy of progressive rock was echoed in the breathy tones and quasi-reverence adopted by several of the show's hosts, which both paralleled a similarly mellow approach to presentation that was developing in American FM radio (...) and unintentionally parodied John Peel's natural broadcasting style,

Peel was always at a distance from this "new orthodoxy", expressing on numerous occasions in the early 1970s his dislike of popular progressive bands of the time such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, and Deep Purple. His producer John Walters shared his lack of enthusiasm for them. But although Peel did not play their records, these groups were featured in the shows of other Sounds Of The Seventies DJs. There was some overlap with other SOTS shows in Peel's playlists, but they were always more eclectic, incorporating genres which his colleagues seldom played - blues, country, rock'n'roll, pop oldies, traditional folk, reggae, soul and the more avant-garde types of progressive rock associated with Krautrock, other European bands, and the early releases on the Virgin label. He continued to pay attention to the US music scene and to play unreleased import LPs.

The format of most SOTS shows resembled that of Top Gear. The programmes were a mixture of records and specially recorded sessions; the only exceptions to this were the live concert repeats (some of them introduced by Peel) which went out on Wednesday or Thursday evenings, the magazine programme Rockspeak and The Sequence, in which records were played continuously, with a minimum of DJ talk. At the time Peel still hoped for a freer format, along the lines of Night Ride, but this did not come to pass. Although the Radio 1 management were willing to give more time to progressive music, they were wary of the underground/hippy culture with which Peel still sympathised, and therefore insisted on more conventional radio programming. However, Peel did praise Steve Bradshaw's programme for BBC Radio London, Breakthrough, as being closer to his ideal of how radio could be.

As Robert Chapman (ibid., p. 273) pointed out, the advent of Sounds Of The Seventies "indicated Radio One's programming policy for years to come", highlighting the division between chart-based daytime shows and more specialised programmes (including Peel's) in the evenings and at weekends. Peel's shows were more cutting-edge than those of his colleagues, with session debuts including Roxy Music in 1972, but in 1973-74 they began to reflect a relatively quiet period of rock history, with few new artists of note. In an August 1974 piece for Sounds (reprinted in The Olivetti Chronicles, pp. 347-9]) he described how he had been criticised by bands who had recorded sessions for his shows,(and also by producer John Walters) for what they saw as frivolous and disrespectful introductions to their tracks. He claimed he was trying not to sound too serious, but he may simply have been bored by the shows' routine. Peel's influence was in some ways diminished by the increasing number of alternatives in British radio of the 1970s (not just SOTS, but "progressive" music shows on the new ILR and BBC local stations), but he was the only SOTS DJ to survive the "cull" of the BBC's 1975 economy drive.

Schedule

The table below draws on the Frequency Finder site and Ken Garner's Peel Sessions. Further details on presenters (and sessions) are available from the Radio Times listings at the BBC Genome site. Please add further details where known.

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
April 1970
(18.00-19.00)
Andy Ferris[1] Mike Harding In Concert (rpt)[2] Stuart Henry Alan Black
Oct. 1970
(18.00-19.00)
Bob Harris

[3]

Mike Harding In Concert (rpt) Stuart Henry Alan Black
Oct. 1971
(22.00-00.00)
Bob Harris In Concert,
John Peel [4]
John Peel[5] Pete Drummond Review (Alan Black
& Bob Harris)[6]
Oct. 1972
(22.00-00.00)
Bob Harris John Peel[7] Review (Alan Black
& Bob Harris)
John Peel[8] Pete Drummond
Oct. 1973
(22.00-00.00)
Bob Harris John Peel Review (Alan Black
& Anne Nightingale)
John Peel[9] Rock Speak
(Michael Wale)
May 1974
(22.00-00.00)
Bob Harris John Peel Review (Alan Black &
Anne Nightingale)
John Peel Rock Speak
(Michael Wale)
  1. Replaced by David Symonds from 27 April.
  2. Introduced by Peel until end of 1971.
  3. From 26 Oct.
  4. From 05 October 1971. Producer Jeff Griffin. [1]
  5. From 06 October 1971. Producer John Walters.
  6. Replaced by Peel's Friday Night Is Boogie Night, producer John Muir, 07 January 1972 to 29 September 1972.
  7. Producer John Walters.
  8. Friday show moved to Thursday with new producer Bernie Andrews, from 05 October 1972.
  9. John Walters replaces Bernie Andrews as Thursday night producer, 20 January 1974.

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