My passion for music and a desire to be a broadcaster goes way back. In fact, I wanted to be a DJ as soon as I knew such a job existed.
By the time I was 16 I had teamed up with a school mate (Martin Ward) to do mobile discos (Dancemaster Discos), we did occasional gigs at community centres, as well as for friends and family who took pity on us.
However, lugging tonnes of disco gear around all hours of the night was no fun, so by the age of 20 I had landed residencies in clubs and pubs in my home town of Southend-On-Sea. All I needed to carry were two boxes of records and a microphone (that’s more like it).
A career spanning more than 10 years as a professional DJ followed. During the 1980s and 90s I was resident DJ at venues such as Dr Zhivago’s, Electric Blue, High Society, The Sam Lords, The Zero 6, and Radio Top Shop.
Across the River Thames in Kent I worked at Nero’s 2000 (Ramsgate) and Woody’s at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey (I think Jim Vail was the manager. A straight talker and a great guy).
Woody’s was a former Ritz cinema that was converted into a nightclub that has since been pulled down (as has Nero’s I believe).
Nero’s (which went on to become First Impressions) was a great club that had been opened in the 70s and removed its Saturday Night Fever style dance floor just before the hit movie came out (ouch!).
I was there in the mid 80s and among the guest appearances I hosted was John Altman, he was at the height of his fame as Eastender’s naughty Nick Cotton. He was great fun to work with. Christopher Quinten (Coronation St) was not quite as easy going though.
My first taste of radio was at Southend Hospital Radio, where I volunteered for 10 years (1978-88). Back then hospital radio was a common route to professional work in the industry. Nowadays it seems internet radio is a popular route to gaining on-air experience.
One night I was asked by a stranger to DJ at the Top Man/Top Shop record store in Southend on Saturdays (hi Leigh). This led to a full time job as a Radio Top Shop DJ (couldn’t believe my luck – thanks Jim).
I managed the instore closed circuit station and presented shows most days. Jobs included selling advertising, making jingles, writing and producing commercials, managing the DJ roster and of course presenting shows. All great experiences – loved every minute.
For a few years it was Top Shop during the day, and clubs and pubs at night.
Later work included shifts in the newsroom at BBC Essex and Essex FM, and I presented the breakfast show on Basildon Radio (getting up at 4am for a 6am kick-off was not fun though).
I have fond memories of Dr Zhivago’s nightclub in Southend’s Chartwell Square (see photos below).
Second rate light show, ancient fixed speed turntables (one ran slightly faster than the other), a vintage mixer and your shoes would stick to the carpet – but boy what a great place it was – the atmosphere!
When 2000-plus people poured in on Friday and Saturday nights you knew it was going to be a party.
Joe Lucy hired me. But his successor told me the club only played ‘white music’. No Michael Jackson then? I carried on as normal and played what I and the club goers wanted. He was replaced by the eccentric Steve McGlone (who went on to open High Society, and employ me to work there).
Turns out I was probably the first DJ to play garage and house music at Zhivago’s – the cost of imported 12-inch 45s from the US was horrendous – but the music got the place pumping. When a 12-inch single cost 79 pence, I was paying £3 or more for an import.
Us 80s DJs were in our glory as emerging digital technology offered us a whole new set of tools to mix and enhance the tracks we played.
We were beat mixing and sampling snippets from long forgotten classics to build on the floor-fillers – live and unrehearsed in front of thousands of people. You had to be there…
In 1989 I got a residency at the Zero 6 in Aviation Way, Southend, which had been renamed as The Zero Discotheque. John Budge hired me (although his proper job was in ad sales at the Basildon Yellow Advertiser).
Every DJ had their favourite record store and mine was The Golden Disc in Queens Road, Southend. Long gone now though… It had great staff (hi Karen) who would often hand me a pile of records when I went in – they just knew what I needed.
Over the years I have lost touch with my old running mates. So here are some shout outs to Nigel Ball, Dwight Wizard, Geoff (the voice) Cullen, Paul Lovett, Tony (megamixer) Glass, Dave Davies (Black Diamond Roadshows), Paul Bright, Robbie Dee, David Furneaux, Steve Cochrane, Paul Bright, Martin Ward, and Adrian (magic man) Fox.
Any photos of the venues mentioned would be welcomed…Send me a message using the feedback form.
In 2013, following a near 20-year break from radio, I launched the syndicated Pleasuredome show of 80’s dance floor classics.
The Pleasuredome show demo
Hosting the show is great fun and very popular with strong listener feedback.
Being a fan of jazz and soul music I dabbled with the Cool Nights show.
A totally different programme with a laid back presentation style, it gave me a chance to play some seriously cool music and really connect with my listeners.
Cool Nights demo
Photos and jingles
Radio Top Shop
Photos: John Salim
Our first ‘studio’ at Radio Top Shop, Southend was brilliantly built by Nigel Ball. A fully soundproofed studio was eventually built under the Top Man escalator. I don’t have any photos though… 🙁
The studio pictured was behind a false wall at the back of the Top Shop store.
Tech alert: The ‘studio’ had an FTM (Fitch Tape Mechanisms) jingle cart machine, an Akai 4000DS reel to reel, a Rotel tuner for taking the news from IRN, and a cassette tape deck.
I placed the FM aerial for the tuner on top of the Rain nightclub next door in Elmar Approach (opposite the long-gone Odeon cinema). The turntables were made by Realistic. The mixer was a 6 – 2 Phonic.
We bought a recording jingle cart machine from Martin Fitch (half the price of a Sonifex). That took dozens of phone calls and 5 months to arrive! I think we were sent his pre-production model.
Among other things the tape machine was used to record one hour of output in the morning that was played back in the afternoon – so the DJ could take lunch. Generic phrases such as “it’s about 15 minutes past the hour” meant few people knew… (tee hee).
Below – a handful of Radio Top Shop jingles (made by Manchester’s Alfasound TapeTrix).
Regular DJs at Top Shop included Paul Bright, Nigel Dee, Dave Davies, and I think Paul Lovett may have done a few shows too (among many others).
Steve with a few of the Top Shop staff in October 1984. (L-R) back: Barbara, Steve, Marilyn, Debbie, (don’t remember the other names…). Front: Dionne and Joanne.
A Top Shop festive fun day in about 1985. I got to hand out the fun while DJs Paul Bright and Nigel Dee played the music.
We frequently put a DJ deck in the Top Shop window to entertain Southend shoppers. We’d interview people in the store as well as hire robotic dancers and breakdancers.
These fun days always created excitement in the store and along Southend High Street – drawing huge crowds (and sometimes the police unplug our disco speakers as they walked by – hey ho!).”
Southend Hospital radio
Photo: John Salim
This photo was taken in about 1986 at Southend Hospital Radio (formerly Thameside Hospital Radio). The station had two studios, this self-op one, and one for news and interviews.
Tech alert: The mixer was made by Alice, there were two Sonifex jingle cart machines (that made a hell of a clunk when fired) and two QRK turntables. In the background is a TRD tape machine.
This jingle was routinely used by the hospital radio station. I always thought it was made by station member John O’Kill. However, a slightly different mix features in a YouTube documentary about London pirate station Thameside Radio 90.2FM – so all bets are off as to where it came from or who made it.
Photo: John Salim
Never did like the brittle sound of the AKG D190 microphone, the other mic we used was an AKG D202 which had a much ‘warmer’ sound.
I think this photo was taken when I was presenting the evening request show. This was the best show to have as you got to play all sorts of music, and if there wasn’t enough requests I could play what I wanted (yip, yip!).
My first show at Thameside was called Spectrum Motown, a 30 minute programme featuring anything on the Motown label. Wasn’t really my thing, but 3 ‘best of’ Motown albums got me by.
The hospital radio’s MCR (master control room) in the 1980s.
Tech alert: The MCR features a Chiltern mixer, a QRK three-speed turntable, a recording Sonifex jingle machine and two Revox B77 tape machines (donated by a CB radio club from Canvey Island).
To the right of the MCR – through the glass – is the news studio that had Calrec microphones. Behind the photographer is the self-op studio (shown above).
A ‘live’ broadcast from Southend’s Chartwell Square one Saturday in 1979 using Thameside’s OB caravan.
Zhivago’s nightclub Southend
Yours truly at Dr Zhivago’s in Southend’s Chartwell Square.
During the 70s the club was known as the Intercon and had a stainless steel dance floor, but that had long gone by the time I got there in 1982.
I was about 11 when I first went to the Intercon for ‘Saturday morning disco’, and the DJ (Graham Daubney / Nathan Jones) asked me to leave the dance floor as I was carrying a plastic cup of Coke – ‘no drinks on the dance floor’.
Strangely, the DJ stand that welcomed me 10 years later featured a jingle cart machine – who plays jingles in a nightclub? No worries, someone had fried it in a pint of beer before I arrived.
Responding to this story, Graham says: “The jingle machines were put in because from time to time we had the Radio London and BBC Radio One guys come and ‘guest spot’ in the Friday evening session.
“Stuart Henry, Paul Jones, Freddy…can’t remember, Johnnie Walker, etc, etc…used to bring their jingles with them.”
The 4 For Sure CB radio club used Zhivago’s on Tuesday nights. I was hired to DJ by the club and had great fun. At the time, the CB club was among many groups across the UK lobbying the Tory government for CB radio to be legalised.
Campaigners wanted 27Mhz AM to be the CB frequency (as it was in the US), but the UK government only legalised 27Mhz FM – better quality, but a much shorter range.
Ten minutes later everyone had a mobile phone and CB was made obsolete (no one could clip the ticket on CB radio conversations…)
The night Zhivago’s closed, I think these regulars were from Chelmsford.
Steve at Zhivago’s ‘on a DJ break’.
Steve’s ‘official’ publicity shot. Yep, a good face for radio…
CB radio club manager Andy, and DJ Steve Koala entertaining club members.
Essex Radio’s Dave Gillbee (centre) draws a crowd at Zhivago’s. Far left is another Essex Radio presenter (Rick someone?).
Zhivago’s when it was a live venue (before it became a dedicated disco).
On a jaunt with the CB radio club. Starshine, what’s your 10-20?
With Zhivago’s closed I started up a Friday night teenage disco in Shoeburyness along with Paul Thompson and the CB3 mobile disco. The Southend Evening Echo gave the event some coverage. Being a news reporter looked like an interesting job…
Below, more photos from Zhivago’s…