Network: My Technology: A spin doctor's friend

John Peel on the little bit of plastic that's always in his pocket
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WITHOUT AN insignificant-looking, tiny piece of plastic, I wouldn't be able to play many of my most-liked records. The small, circular gadget slots into the centre of the record and makes it the right size.

It's the only thing I take with me everywhere. It's a bit of a joke, really. I always say it's like being a doctor, and you take your stethoscope everywhere. I like to imagine an "is there a doctor in the house?" situation with a DJ. If it ever happens, I will be there.

It's one of those things, like the back of your knee, which seem to have no name. The reason why a lot of records have holes too large is partly because of the jukebox; the record would have a big hole punched in it so that it could fit this different type of turntable.

An individual one is called a "spider", and is a very fragile little piece of plastic that can be put in the centre of a record permanently. There is the big central column that the record rests on, and it fits on the middle silver bit that sticks up, and fills the hole. There are quite a few turntables that circumvent the plastic circle and have one that's built into the turntable, and pops up if you need one.

Of course, my favourite bit of technology is deemed unnecessary because so many records are transferred on to CD these days. The CD sound is a deconstructed and reassembled sound; it is bright and brittle and too glossy. I think you lose out, particularly with old 45s, and a lot of records that are ex-jukebox, because they were originally recorded with that medium in mind. I think of the surface noise as battle scars honourably won, patterns on a painting. Suffice it to say, I go out of my way to buy records, and always check to see whether something is available on vinyl. It's cheaper, too.

But the plastic hole-fill was essential when I used to do DJ gigs. These days, with the personality DJs, all of their records are transferred to Mini Disc, so they don't handle the music. But I often found myself plonked in front of a turntable that didn't have the pop-up piece in the middle. Nightmare. So from those days I have carried one around with me. It's always in my right-hand trouser pocket, so now you know what to do if ever there is a case when I am unconscious and a record must be played.

I have tens of thousands of records that are put wherever we can find a space. There is a sort of a system, but the sheer volume of stuff coming in means that it breaks down quite regularly.

At home, I have industrial-strength equipment. Obviously, I am not looking for something too sophisticated, because of the sheer volume of work it has to do. You can't have fancy gear when you are using it for 12 hours a day.

We have a little studio in the house, and it's where we do live programmes for Radio 1. It would not be identified as a studio, it hasn't got sound proofing or anything, and looks like a rather elaborate home stereo system. I don't know how to use it - my grasp of technology is zero. I know that Broadcasting House dials a number and if they have done it correctly then the light flashes and I am on air.

John Peel's Radio 1 programme can be heard on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10.10pm