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. Way back when, it almost mattered what the week’s top selling single was.
Freeman hosted the countdown show from 1967 until 1972, he 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.
As a wannabe DJ in the 70s I marvelled at his presentation style and perfect diction. His use of classical music and rock song segments to punctuate his shows was masterful too.
Freeman was born in New South Wales, Australia, on 6 July 1927 and as a youngster dreamed of being a singer. His first job as a pay clerk was at a timber firm. In 1952 he auditioned to be a radio announcer for 7LA Tasmania, 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 – initially for nine months. His boss at 3KZ agreed to keep a job open for him, but Freeman was never to return.
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 a gig at the BBC and his career started to take off.
He subsequently went from hosting a light programme show to being a presenter at Radio One – a station launched by the BBC in 1967 solely to compete with popular off-shore pirate stations such as Radio London and Caroline – which had just been outlawed.
In 1979 he left the BBC to work at London’s top commercial station 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.
In 1993 Radio One had a massive clear-out of popular and established DJs and Freeman was swept out with other big names. He continued broadcasting though, collected up an MBE along the way and eventually returned to the BBC, this time on Radio Two where he worked until he retired in 2000 aged 73 (that’s not a typo, he was DJing at Seventy Three!).
While there were questions about Freeman’s personal life, the presenter spent his professional career at the top of his game as a shining example of what a good radio host 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 (fluff Freeman) – each show had a beginning, middle and an end.
His on-air catchphrase ‘Alright?’ was aimed at the engineer on the other side of the glass.
Alan Freeman MBE: Born 6 July 1927. Died 27 November 2006.