MUSIC / There must be 50 ways to leave your listeners

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The Independent Culture
IN THE film Network, the presenter Peter Finch turns to the camera and says: 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.' Dave Lee Travis's low-key burblings when he quit his Radio One show were hardly in that class, and while his timing was spot-on (outside August, he might have struggled to make the front page), his choice of music was all wrong.

The 'self-styled hairy cornflake', as one paper called him in a desperate attempt to find something colourful to say about the man, typically followed his resignation speech and State of the Union address with a fairly anodyne Oleta Adams track, 'Easier To Say Goodbye'.

The independent radio boys tend to be less subtle. 'Take This Job And Shove It' by Johnny Paycheck, a hard-edged country song with a less than hidden message, is a particular favourite of DJs facing a hairy cornflake-style scenario. 'The Backstabbers' by the O-Jays is another record that becomes unaccountably popular at a time of schedule changes. On one station I worked for it was played more often than the records on the official playlist.

The really smart management, though, does not give you the opportunity to make your personal statement, musically or otherwise. James H Reeve, Breakfast Show presenter at Piccadilly Radio, Manchester, where the carpets are stained red with the blood of countless northern Smashies and Nicies who have proved surplus to requirements, says: 'A favourits trick is to meet the guy as he comes off air and congratulate him on his last show.

'Working your notice is a little- practised art in commercial radio.'

This is a testimony I can back with personal experience. My commercial radio breakfast show ended in just the manner Reeve describes. At 8.55 one Friday morning, I bade my public farewell for the weekend. By 9.02 I was being told by the newly installed manager that changes were planned and it was felt I wouldn't 'be happy working within the now format'. By 9.05, I was leaving the building with a small cheque and a cardboard box of records and freebie tee-shirts.

The person who really suffered over this sorry business 10 years ago, though, was Dave in Wakefield. My show featured a phone-in snakes-and-ladders game, where callers won a prize each time they went up a ladder. They could either take their winnings, or carry on round the board in the next programme. Dave was halfway around, but rather than take his prizes he agreed to continue on Monday's show. As far as I know, he is still waiting for my call, and I am delighted finally to have an opportunity of apologising to him.

One thing is certain. Dave's calls to the radio station to enquire about my whereabouts would have met with an enigmatic response at best: 'He doesn't work here any more. We don't know where he is.' Cross the management in local radio, and your disappearance can be as sudden, mysterious, and complete as that of a political dissident in one of the less enlightened South American republics.

I once asked the manager of a radio station if he didn't consider this practice a little discourteous to the listeners, who are encouraged to look upon the presenters as personal friends. 'It's like the Blackpool rock factory,' he said. 'You don't give a guy a month's notice unless you want 12 miles of rock with you running through it.'

The self-styled hairy cornflake is, of course, too visible simply to be removed in this way. His possible demise or reshuffling has been hinted at and argued over for a year or more, which is what made his on-air gesture so disappointing to his fellow-jocks. Twelve months to work on it, and the best he can manage is a stick of rock with 'I'm rather cross' running through it.

Danny Baker treated the cornflake with contempt on his Radio Five show, producing a 'top ten reasons why DLT quit', one of which was: 'He finally found the gruelling schedule of four hours' work a week too much.' Danny's sarcasm will have been well received out in the sticks where some of the chaps now driving mini-cabs or working for Radio Top Shop thanks to graduates of the Pol Pot School of Management feel the cornflake, from his position of immense wealth and relative security, could have come up with a rallying cry for the misunderstood jocks of Britain rather than just a general whinge.

If the cornflake feels hard done by, consider the case of one former local hero, who was actually sacked while still on air. The management decided his two-hour Saturday lunchtime show would be cut in half to make way for an extra hour of sport, but they neglected to tell him. When the sports presenter appeared in an adjoining studio and pressed the button to take control of the station and start his show, the former local hero refused to stop broadcasting. He pressed his button and took control back. Sport then pressed their button, the local hero pressed his, and there followed a bizarre radio version of 'Duelling Banjos' that has passed into broadcasting legend.

Dave Cash, who has worked for pirate radio, the BBC and commercial radio, and now writes novels about his radio days, has little sympathy with grand on-air gestures: 'It's pointless to fight the inevitable. If you want a career, you have to read the signs, recognise what is happening, and say OK, that's how it is.

'When I did the afternoon show at Radio One, I remember the controller Douglas Muggeridge calling me in once after the show and saying, 'We all think it's going very well. You're doing a grand job,' and I thought, 'Oh my God. That's it. I won't be doing this show much longer.' But at the end of the day you are just another disc jockey. It is wrong to over-estimate your own importance.'

The cornflake has garnered surprisingly little support from his peers, even those disaffected with the BBC. Tony Blackburn was quoted in one paper as saying DLT was wrong to use his show to make personal statements, which some may feel a little rich from the man who spent weeks on his morning show pleading for his wife to return.

Blackburn, though, has nothing on the late Roger Moffat, whose three-hour morning show on local radio in Sheffield in the late Seventies consisted of nothing but personal statements. Rarely a morning passed without Roger criticising the management. He was sacked, reinstated, sacked again, and once suspended for his own protection. He suggested, on the day Elvis died, that the late King of Rock and Roll should be stuffed and placed in the radio station's reception. Angry fans besieged the station.

For connoisseurs of the kamikaze school of broadcasting, the cornflake's inscrutable statement is lukewarm stuff compared to this. The programme on which he made it is undoubtedly a popular one, and it is even conceivable there are listeners who think of the hairy cornflake as a personal friend, but as Dave Cash says they will soon find another friend on the dial.

There you go, as we disc jockeys are fond of saying. That was DLT. And moving right along now. . . . . .

(Photograph omitted)