IT would be very difficult to separate Tony Blackburn from the 1960s.

As one of the infamous broadcasters on pirate radio station, Caroline and the first voice on BBC Radio 1, it was the era that made him and defined him.

Tony was at the helm during a revolution in music and radio when BBC’s broadcasting monopoly was finally broken and the booming pop, rock and blues scene was the soundtrack to that.

But the 77-year-old does not think we should look back on the decade with rose-tinted glasses.

Tony said: “I never tell my children: ‘They don’t write songs like they used to’ – because there are some really terrific songs still being made and the artists we have nowadays are tremendously talented.

“There was a lot of stuff that came out of the 60s which actually wasn’t very good.

“When I was on the pirate ships, being honest, we had 100 records coming in every week and if you had two really good ones out of that you were lucky. But the thing about the 60s is it was an interesting decade because so much happened within it. It was a revolution in radio certainly and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”

Tony’s part in it – becoming one of the most famous voices on radio – was actually a happy accident.

At the time he wanted to be a singer and guitarist and actually released 29 singles and two albums.

He added: “When I was 19 I wanted to make records but I was not having much luck getting into the music business.

“It was very difficult in those days and I thought by being a DJ that would help me get into it. I read an advertisement in the New Musical Express and I applied for it and got that job.”

That job in 1964 was as a rebel with a cause on Radio Caroline – the boat that rocked – pirate radio that broadcast on international waters as a way of getting around the BBC’s monopoly on radio.

Tony said: “I had a sense it was history in the making right from the word go. From the moment I started broadcasting on Radio Caroline, I thought: ‘There’s no turning back now’.”

It became so successful that the BBC eventually adopted a ‘if you can’t beat them’ mentality.

Tony added: “The BBC were interested in bringing one or two of the pirate radio people into the station. They thought: ‘We don’t know how to do it – why don’t we let them go ahead and do it?’ So we did.”

As such, Tony became the first voice on BBC Radio 1 in September 1967 and handpicked the first song – The Move’s Flowers in the Rain.

He said: “I’ve actually got it with me now in my little studio where I make up all my shows. It’s framed. They gave it to me after I left Radio 1 saying thanks for the service.

“You become part of history in a way – the first voice on Radio 1 – I’m proud of that. Broadcasting is the most natural form of life to me really. I love it.

“You could make a name for yourself very quickly in those days because if, like me, you were on Radio 1 and Top of the Pops you could turn yourself into a household name in three weeks.

“I was getting audiences of 21 million every morning so half the country practically.”

Knutsford Guardian:

Tony with Ricky Wilson

Tony admits it is not so easy more than 50 years later.

“Now there are so many radio stations,” added the dad-of-two.

“I go along the DAB dial and I’m coming across stations I’ve never heard of before so it has all changed.”

Has it changed for the better? Tony is unsure.

The broadcaster, who still has shows on four stations including BBC Radio 2, said: “I like ‘personality stations’ whereas a lot of DJs are restricted to talking for 10 or 15 seconds and then they play three songs in a row, do a time check and then talk for another 10 seconds. That, to me, is stifling someone’s ability. If someone like Kenny Everett came in nowadays he’d find it difficult to get a job.

“Modern radio can be very regimented and formatted. I like to be able to go on there, be myself and play the music I love. I’m very lucky in that I get to choose the music on my programmes.”

Even so – and despite that 60s tag that follows him – Tony recognises that he has to move with the times.

A good example of that is his podcast Pop Detectives with Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson where they debunk pop myths and solve music mysteries.

Tony added: “Although I’m very connected to the 60s I’ve always been interested in the future. I was one of the first people on Twitter and I’ve always loved smart phones.

“I think it’s very important to keep up to date and also to appreciate that even though I’ve been broadcasting for 55 years nobody owes me a living. I have to fight harder and harder for it.

“Just because I’ve been around for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean people want to employ me but luckily at the moment they do.

“When I feel as though I’m not doing it as well as I could do that’ll be the time when I say: ‘Thanks very much, I’ve had a wonderful time. Goodbye’. But right now I’m not interested in retiring because I have a job that I love doing.”

Tony Wilson spoke to us to promote his Parr Hall show Sounds of the 60s which has now been postponed until February 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak