Post updated 26th December 2021
Janice Long was one of a kind.
Having just heard the very sad news that she’s no longer with us, let’s never forget that she was not only the first woman to be given a regular weekday slot on national Radio 1, but also went on to champion many of the bands we fell in love with, that may have never stood a chance at national radio play via the old guard.
Janice left school in the early 1970s after which she spent two years working for Laker Airways as cabin crew, she told pennyblackmusic.com,
“ I got a job with Laker Airways to be a stewardess. I went off and did that for a few years before jacking it in to go off and hitch around Europe. I wound up in Amsterdam where I lived for almost a year in a tent and worked in a Wimpy Bar, and then eventually came back to Liverpool, where I did a variety of jobs before a letter caught up with me from Radio Merseyside asking what I was up to”
So Long’s next stop was as a station assistant at BBC Radio Merseyside where she soon started presenting, and after interviewing DJ Paul Gambaccini he recommended her to Radio One.
Before the wide choice of internet radio and streaming services, Radio 1 was a very big deal, it was national, it had an enormous listener-ship but until 1984 it didn’t have a single woman on it’s schedule with a daily show. Although Annie Nightingale had been with Radio 1 since 1969, she usually occupied the Sunday evening slot, apparently BBC bosses told her DJs were “husband substitutes” for housewife listeners who wouldn’t want to hear women. Hence no daytime women…yup that makes sense.
So, undeterred and still firmly on the Mersey side of the street, Janice “had this idea for a programme called ‘Street Life’. As I was going to all these gigs at Eric’s and places like that, I thought there was nothing happening that was reflecting what was going on in Liverpool musically at the time, and so I was given this tiny budget to put together a programme on Sunday nights between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. I had all these local bands on such as Echo and The Bunnymen, China Crisis and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. We were also playing national music as well, but more what was underground or was deemed the underground. It became quite a cult thing, and the people at Radio 1 listened too it without me knowing it and then they got in touch”. In 1984 and well into the post punk era, Janice was offered the weekday early evening slot, the one that came just before John Peel, and that provided a bridge, some would say buffer, between the smarmy chart friendly hustle of daytime shows and the musings of the bearded one.
Janice slotted right in, playing tracks by the slightly more underground end of chart music, like the Bunnymen, or by the early 1980s The Smiths. Janice was also able to offer bands sessions, and dovetailed so well with Peel that for a short while in the early to mid eighties it was like we had two sympathetic presenters that we could rely on.
Janice was also the first female presenter of Top of The Pops which she would generally do in tandem, and as a double act with fellow evening presenter John Peel, who it is said after the departure of David Jensen refused to do the show with anyone else.
So what went wrong? Why DID Janice leave her great evening slot, and Radio 1 altogether? Was she involved in a drugs scandal? Had she lost all her listeners? Was she drunk and sweary on air? No! of course not!!! For all the BBC’s early attempts at inclusivity and equality, Janice was “let go” for the terrible crime of being pregnant without being married. Imagine. Pathetic.
Unstoppable, Janice continued to broadcast, play music and provide lively commentary, most recently for BBC Radio Wales. Always a cheery and down to earth presence, she was as important to the bands as she was to the fans of their music. And for those of us growing up in the early 1980s she will forever be an important fixture in our musical taste and development.
Janice Long 1955 – 2021 BBC News 26.12.21.