Diddy David Hamilton is still reeling from the last year. ‘Just dreadful. Dreadful!’ he says, nestled in the cushions of his soft beige sofa.
‘Everything was cancelled. I couldn’t go into the radio station because of my age. I had a TV show appearance cancelled because they couldn’t insure me and everything else was off. So I wrote a book to keep myself occupied!’
Even at 82, he’s still beavering away. Hamilton has been on air since 1959, when Harold Macmillan was prime minister and Cliff Richard was recording Living Doll for the first time.
But things have started looking up. He’s got a new job broadcasting on BOOM Radio six days a week from a makeshift studio in his wooden chalet-style pool house — just a hop and a skip across his Sussex garden — as his wife Dreena tunes in from the house, dancing around the kitchen to the ‘One O’Clock Rock’ section.
‘She loves, loves, LOVES it!’ he chirps. ‘And you know what? I’m probably making broadcasting history! The oldest person to do a daily show.’
Maybe. But at the newly launched station — aimed at Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 — there’s plenty of competition. Veteran presenters David Symonds, 77, Roger Day, 76, Nicky Horne, 70, Anna Raeburn, 76, and Graham Dene, 72, are all BOOM regulars.
Diddy David Hamilton is thrilled to be back on the air aged 82 as one of the DJs on BOOM radio – a new station aimed at Baby Boomers
All are incredibly experienced, most speak in that slightly cheesy DJ twang that takes us back further than we might want and every one is beside themselves to be working again — albeit from sheds, sitting rooms and studies — to an audience they know, understand and who, perhaps more importantly, understands them.
Dene, a veteran of Capital, Smooth, Virgin and Magic, is still pinching himself to be back in his favourite slot from 7.30am to 10am. ‘I just can’t believe it!’ he grins. ‘Your confidence goes when you’re not asked any more. When you get to a certain age, you think it’s never going to happen again.’
Diana Luke, 67, a former BBC regular, had also felt the pressure. ‘We older presenters were put in a corner. Pushed back and back. I felt squeezed out and rejected.’
Then along came BOOM, the project of industry veterans Phil Riley (the radio tycoon who launched Heart FM and relaunched LBC) and broadcaster David Lloyd, aimed at the UK’s 14 million Boomers. It went on air on Valentine’s Day and is available across the country.
Although critics have called the output ‘unchallenging’ and ‘like getting into a warm bath’, Boomers are tuning in in droves, with up to 40,000 listeners online each week and more than 100,000 on DAB — far exceeding projections and rising steadily.
‘The listening numbers are miles better than we’d hoped for,’ said Riley yesterday. ‘And they’re tuning in for really long periods.’
Meanwhile, BOOM’s presenters would happily work for the station for nothing.
‘It’s not really about the money,’ says Diddy. ‘It never has been. I just love communicating. Or my wife would say, I love talking . . .’
Dene is just thrilled to be able to stride across his kitchen to his studio each morning and reconnect with old friends. ‘They’ve been desperate. Neglected. Unheard. Oh, the emails! ‘Where have you been?’ ‘This is the music we’ve been craving.’ ‘You’re filling a hole!’ he says.
David Lloyd couldn’t agree more. ‘I’ve never seen such unbridled passion!’ he says. ‘They’ve been pushed out in the cold.’
Apparently, in the quest to attract the ‘Holy Grail’ of younger listeners — women in their mid-30s to mid-40s — the bosses at BBC Radio 2 have been quietly asking their DJs to scale back on playing songs from the 1960s and 1970s in favour of music from the 1980s onwards.
Hamilton, pictured in 1973, has been on air since 1959, when Harold Macmillan was prime minister and Cliff Richard was recording Living Doll for the first time
‘What madness is that?!’ says Hamilton. ‘That’s lopping out The Beatles, Elvis, the Stones, Rod Stewart, Motown . . .’
Which is where Riley and Lloyd have stepped in. ‘We’re not trying to recreate a good old station and pretend its 1968 all over again,’ insists Lloyd. ‘This is a station for now, for people who really love and understand music.’
Perhaps the real miracle is that, somehow, they’re still going. Most started broadcasting half a century ago when DJs were heart- throbs, Radio 1 had 20 million listeners and fan mail — and ladies’ undies — arrived by the sackload.
Though sadly not for Dene. ‘I don’t think I ever got a pair of knickers,’ he says mournfully.
And, while hosting his morning show on Capital Radio in the 1970s, he turned down almost every party invite — to get enough sleep. ‘I really regret that. I’d have loved to have done more.’
Back then, DJs revelled in the groupies, the parties and the absence of any hint of political correctness. ‘I had a slot on one of my shows where, every day, I discussed The Sun’s Page Three girl of the day,’ says Dene, horrified. ‘What was I thinking?!’
‘Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman had a section called ‘Get if off your chest’,’ says Hamilton. ‘Loads of women sent him their brassieres and he had them draped all round his studio. Imagine that today!’ Hamilton tells me he lived with a Page Three girl back in the day —’Her father was a judge, you know! She was very clever.’
Grahame Dene, 72, is another veteran radio DJ who is back on the air, at home , with BOOM
But Diana Luke, a mother of four and grandmother of nine — who hosts BOOM’s 10pm to midnight slot with her fantastically gravelly late-night voice — experienced the flip side of the coin.
‘I went through some stuff,’ she says darkly. ‘It was very sexist. I knew women who played the game and slept with whoever would give them the job, but I refused to go down that path and I had a challenging time for a while.’
Happily, her new life at BOOM is different. There is no central studio — and never will be — which means no tiring commute, no after-show knees-ups (though they did all share a glass of champagne on Zoom on opening night) and little opportunity for any sexual impropriety. In fact, this lot are more likely to be disturbed by the doorbell than a scantily-clad groupie bursting in.
‘The other day a cloud of burnt toast came under the studio door!’ Dene tells me. ‘Of course, I mentioned it on my show.’
Perhaps surprisingly, the technology hasn’t presented a problem — even though for some it is the first time they’ve had a home computer. ‘We can all do far more than people think we can,’ says Dene.
There have been other radio shows aimed at the older generation — Saga Radio, for one, which folded in 2007. But none have really taken off.
For years, local radio was unofficially for the over-50s. A lot of Boomers found the music fuddy-duddy and not nearly stimulating enough. After all, this is the generation who experienced the explosion of rock music.
Dene, pictured in 1979, is just thrilled to be able to stride across his kitchen to his studio each morning and reconnect with old friends
And the presenters seem happy broadcasting to an audience for whom political correctness is not necessarily the first priority. ‘You still have to be very careful. We’ve all been indoctrinated into a new way of life,’ says Dene. ‘But if you can’t trust us blokes — and women! Oh dear, there I go . . . us Boomers, I should say, then who can you trust?’
Even David ‘One-Take’ Hamilton says he no longer says the first thing that comes into his head and instead thinks very carefully before opening his mouth. Particularly if, like him, your ambition is to go on until you die.
‘I want to croak at the microphone,’ he says firmly, adding: ‘Though hopefully not this week.’
Let’s hope not. Because to me BOOM Radio is a bit like a warm bath — welcoming and gentle.
But at 52, I am nearly a Boomer — so perhaps I’m just limbering up for the next stage of life.
Source: Daily Mail UK