Alan Freeman, profile of an iconic DJ

You’re never too old to rock

If you listened to Alan Freeman’s Pick of the Pops on Britain’s Radio One you would have heard the Australian DJ present a tightly formatted radio show featuring the week’s top 30.

It was compelling listening for anyone wanting to know the week’s number one, and Freeman certainly put a lot of energy into his shows. In those days, it almost mattered what the week’s best selling single was. Today, there are so many charts many have lost value…

Freeman remained on air until 2000 and his signature song, At The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbal, became synonymous with him and his shows – so much so that there are generations of people who, when hearing it, think of Freeman (even though he left us in 2006).

Alan Freeman.
The late great Alan Freeman. Born in Australia where he got his first radio job, went to the UK for a holiday and never returned.

Audio: Alan Freeman during a rehearsal in the 1970s.

As a wannabe DJ in the 70s I marvelled at his presentation style, perfect diction, and he never crashed an intro (spoke over the singer). His use of classical music and rock song segments to punctuate his shows was masterful too.

Sounding so polished and professional took practice. He wouldn’t walk into a studio 10 minutes before air time and host a tightly-formatted show such as a chart rundown. He’d practice beforehand, so he had a good idea where he’d trip up in advance of going live.

He’d practice his links and the all-important  chart rundown, spoken at a million miles an hour, but with perfect diction and delivery. Practice, practice, practice.

Freeman was so good he was on the air from 1961 (a great year) to 2000! What a career.

He was born in New South Wales, Australia, dreamed of being singer, but got a job as a pay clerk at a timber firm. In 1952 he auditioned to be a radio announcer for a station in Tasmania (7LA) , and the die was cast.

By 1957 he was at 3KZ in Melbourne, but the travel bug had bitten and so he headed to the UK for nine months. His boss at 3KZ agreed to keep a job open for him – but Freeman was never to return for work.

London

Unimpressed with the output of the BBC in the UK, about the only game in town at the time, he went to Radio Luxembourg. By 1960 he landed as gig at the BBC and his stellar career started to take off.

He subsequently went from hosting a light programme show to being a presenter at Radio 1 – a station launched by the BBC to compete with popular off-shore pirate stations such as Radio London and Caroline.

In 1979 he left the BBC to work at London’s Capital Radio, but returned to the Beeb in 1989 for a rehash of his Pick of the Pops show, this time called Pick of the Pops – Take Two.

Sacked

In 1993 the BBC had a massive clear-out of established DJs and Freeman was swept out with other big names. He continued broadcasting though, picked up an MBE along the way and eventually returned to the BBC, this time on Radio 2 where he worked until he retired in 2000 aged 73. (that’s not a typo, he was DJing at Seventy Three)

While there were dramas in Freeman’s personal life, the DJ spent his professional career at the top of his game as a shining example of what a good radio presenter can  and should do.

He added sparkle and energy to his shows, surprised listeners – with rock and classical drop ins, ad-libs and laughed off his own on-air fluff ups – each show had a beginning, middle and end.

What can we learn from this? Work hard to be the best you can when on air. You can have an on air persona, you should practice, master your craft, surprise listeners, entertain them and if you make a mistake, embrace it and share it with your listeners – you are human – not a corporate robot.

And you’re never too old to ROCK!

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