Our expert chart palaeontologist Fab Alan Field has been doing a bit of audio-digging amongst ancient Radio London recordings and has unearthed a few fossilised nuggets of information regarding the very earliest Big L charts. Although it transpires that recordings have often been misdated, the correct transmission dates have been verified from stories in the news bulletins.
When Radio London first began broadcasting, the station playlist was extremely restricted. The on-board library consisted of a small collection of records and tapes that had sailed from Miami with the ship; a few albums and a very limited number of current singles. An unexpected problem was that the stylus arm would jump off albums if the weather got choppy and if it got really rough, singles were out too! Everything had to be played off tape or cartridges.
Programme Director Ben Toney not only had the onerous task of turning a bunch of (mostly) raw DJs into a slick US Top Forty team, but he also had to convince record company exploitation managers that Big L was the ideal place for promoting their wares. An item in Billboard dated May 1965, well after Radio London had established itself, (extract right) reveals that although the two Caroline stations had been broadcasting for over a year, record company chiefs remained wary of airing their new releases on the pirate stations, for fear of Crown reprisals.
Both Kenny Everett and Pete Brady (left), who were on board the Galaxy at the start, have recalled that in the early days, Big L DJs became so desperate to play something new, that they often resorted to flipping some of the singles and airing the B-sides. This did not go unnoticed by the music press, with Melody Maker's columnist 'Raver' posing the question, "Has Radio London a limited supply of pop discs?"
"You'd hear (the tunes) in your sleep because you'd play them every day," says Kenny Everett in Brian Long's book, 'The London Sound'. "When a new batch came out, you'd jump on them like a dying, starving man."
For his part, Ben Toney did manage to convince the exploitation staff, if not the record company management, that their artists needed to be heard on a top forty station and Radio London was soon helping to create huge hits. Tony Hall of Decca was quick to recognise the benefits of Big L airplay and as Pete Brady recalls, supplied the station with a box of new releases. It's no surprise then, that Decca artists loomed large on the early station playlist.
The chart for the week beginning 24th January 1965 is the first of a consecutive run of complete Radio London Fab 40s and was our natural starting point when we went back to post the early charts on the website a few years ago. Of course, Radio London began broadcasting on Wednesday 23rd December 1964 (after about a week of test transmissions), and we have been looking for chart information covering the station's first month on air. There isn't much, but we're setting out below everything we have. Anyone with additional information is invited to get in touch.
This was the week of test transmissions. It began with literally just a heterodyne whistle on the first day, and on the second day Paul Kaye announcing "Testing – This is Radio London" followed by the PAMS "Sonowaltz" jingle (better known as 'Big Lil'). The test broadcasts proper, involving the DJs, records, news bulletins and weather forecasts, began on December 18th. There were even one or two adverts, on the later test broadcasts at least. There is little difference between the test transmissions in the few days leading up to 23rd December, and the shows broadcast immediately after, so the comments in the next section apply here too.
Radio London was always a Top 40 station and the 'Fabulous 40' was mentioned right from the start. There are a few surviving recordings of shows broadcast in the first couple of weeks. The following information is drawn from those, and is supported by the recollections of the first breakfast show DJ, Pete Brady
The station had relatively few current singles to begin with. Those they had were played repeatedly, sometimes B-sides too, and the DJs relied heavily on oldies, album tracks, and a limited number of American singles from the late summer and autumn of 1964, which had come over from the States with the Galaxy. In the first few days, Paul Kaye, and especially Earl Richmond (both, according to Ben Toney, old-school announcers who were out of their depths as pop DJs) sometimes referred to the Fabulous Forty as though it were also the name of their show, which has led to some confusion regarding the date of the first chart rundown.
Recordings of an Earl Richmond mid-morning show exist that have been wrongly dated as Sunday, 27th December 1964 and have also been mislabelled 'First Fab 40'. However, an item in the news bulletin enables the clip to be accurately dated to Saturday, 19th December 1964, establishing that it was a test transmission. Moreover, the music includes oldies, B-sides and non-hits, together with a few hit records played in no particular order. Hardly a chart rundown!
For all the mentions of the Fab 40 chart itself in those very early days, very few actual positions were quoted during the recordings we've heard, making even a limited reconstruction impossible now. We are making the assumption that there must have been some structure to the Fab 40, as there were occasional references to records being on their way up or down the chart, or their relative success. To give some specific examples, on 24th December 1964 on his evening show, Paul Kaye described 'Oh No, Not My Baby' by Maxine Brown as being "well into our charts", and 'Ain't It The Truth' by Mary Wells (below, left) as being "high on the Fabulous 40", while 'The Jerk' by the Larks is introduced as "another one from the Fabulous 40". On the other hand, Paul was struggling with the format and his remarks may not have been intended to have been taken literally.
It is not known whether a chart rundown was broadcast on the first Sunday (27th December 1964), but from the DJ complaints about lack of records, it seems probable that there simply would not have been enough current releases aboard the ship at that time.
It's worth recalling at this point, a pilot show produced by Radio London for the American market. In 2001, Tony Currie unearthed a half-hour studio recording of a 60-minute pilot called 'Swinging UK'. It was voiced by John Benson and sounded nothing like the Big L that British listeners grew to know and love. At the time Benson, who was best known as a TV announcer, presented a Saturday 'Top Twenty Show' which was broadcast in Northern Germany on the British Forces Broadcasting Service.
The Swinging UK pilot featured British hits in the current top 30, pop news and star interviews with the playlist reflecting the national chart for the last week of December 1964 or first week of January 1965. The positions quoted had nothing to do with the Fab 40, which wasn't mentioned by name. Swinging UK was not taken up as a regular show.
Perhaps, while Ben Toney was trying to bring US-style radio to the UK, Radlon MD Philip Birch felt that a 'quaintly British' pop programme would be snapped up by US stations, where the British invasion was gathering pace. (Recently, Ben confirmed that he was unfamiliar with Swinging UK, knew nothing about its production and had never heard of John Benson.)
Update June 2014:
In a short clip from a Kenny Everett show during the week beginning 3rd January 1965, Kenny refers to a previous chart (which incidentally he calls 'the RADLON Fabulous Forty') where the Beatles were at the top. It's final confirmation that a previous numbered listing existed.
Paul Kaye mentioned a few chart positions in his show on Saturday morning, 9th January 1965, presumably reflecting the Fab 40 of the previous Sunday, 3rd January. Recordings of Paul's show are sometimes dated incorrectly, but the 9th January dateline given at the start of the news bulletins is clear, and the main story can be independently verified as having broken the previous night
Kenny Everett announced the Drifters' 'Saturday Night at the Movies' as not having made it yet, but he expected they would soon. Kenny refers to Johnny Tillotson's 'She Understands Me' (aka 'Dum-de-Dah') as an 'extra'.
Alan says: "I wondered at first if it was a new enough release in the UK to be the equivalent of a climber before Radio London actually called them 'climbers' (if there ever was such a time). Format-wise it was played in a normal climber slot, just before a revived 45 ('Juliet' - the Four Pennies). A tantalising thought, but probably nothing in it. The record was issued in the States in October 1964. It was more likely just one of the many US releases from around that time that sailed with the Galaxy from Miami. The early shows were packed with them. 'She Understands Me' was actually still in the Billboard chart, down at #35 in the week of 2/01/65."
Gert van der Winden, who compiled the 'Early Fab 40' listings from Machteld Meijer's hand-written notes, listened to other recordings from this period and provided additional information. This is marked with an asterisk (*) directly after the chart position.
** the first track played on Radio London by Pete Brady, 23rd December 1964
In addition, Paul Kaye described 'The Door Is Still Open To My Heart' by Dean Martin as "way up in our Fabulous 40", and said that 'Chug-A-Lug' by Roger Miller had "just left the Fabulous 40". That second comment confirms that there was a chart for 23rd and/or 27th December 1964. However, that doesn't answer the question as to whether the chart that was in place at the official station opening was replaced by a new Fab 40, after only four days of Radio London airplay, or continued in force for another week.
Our information for this week's chart comes from a list of the Top 10 read out by Keith Skues, some years after the event. To confuse matters, there are two different versions of this Top 10, read out on two separate occasions, where the charts are attributed to two different dates and have the positions of the top two records reversed.
We've discounted the version produced for what sounds like a re-created show, where the Top 10 is dated to "the end of December 1964" yet the top 3 are the same records in the same order as they appear in our published Fab 40 for 24th January 1965. Instead we've taken the list as read by Keith on his 'potted history' of Radio London, broadcast live from the Galaxy on Sunday 23rd July 1967. Keith did not date the chart more exactly than "the beginning of January 1965", but based on the chart positions quoted, and from what we know of the Fab 40s for 3rd and 17th January, it would seem to be the Top 10 for 10th January 1965. The list appears with that date, but with no further information, in Brian Long's 'The London Sound'.
Note: the 'Last Week' positions are ours, taken from the preceding chart above. Keith simply read the list from 10 to 1 without reference to any previous placings.
This list simply reflects the three 'Last Week' positions provided by Gert in his chart for the following week, 24th January (our first full Fab 40) and links back to the Skues list dated to the 10th.
Many thanks to Alan for his painstaking research. His recording source material is listed on Page 2.