Pluggers fall to bottom of pop chart

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The Independent Culture
One of the most influential elements in the history of pop music - the record plugger- is to lose the automatic right of access to presenters and producers on BBC's Radio 1.

The station is to move in August from the headquarters it has occupied since its birth in 1967. And the BBC is using the move from Egton House in Langham Street, London, to nearby Yaldon House to "change the culture" of the station. The biggest change will be ending the informal daily visits of record pluggers.

The pluggers are easily spotted. Some wear record company promotional baseball jackets; all wear the regulation T-shirt, pullover and jeans. And all beam with well-practised confidence.

They gather for morning coffee in the reception area at Egton House, Radio 1's headquarters opposite Broadcasting House. They carry the essential tools of the trade: a mobile phone, a box of soon-to-be- released CD singles, and a pair of "these-are-gold-dust-believe-me" tickets for an upcomingconcert.

They compare notes, practise their persuasiveness on the receptionist, long-accustomed to being Miss Moneypenny to the record-plugging 007s, then saunter down the corridors to chat to their favourite DJ, or, more usefully, his producer.

Not all gain entry. Ask any plugger who the two most important people are in his life, and he will reply: "Clare and Gerald." Clare is the receptionist at Radio 1, Gerald the security guard. Get on the wrong side of them and you're back out on the Langham Street pavement.

If pluggers succeed, however, they will meet with a favoured producer and play the artist they want to get on the Radio 1 playlist. To push their artist on to this list is the objective of every plugger.

But the successful plugger knows there are other routes to success. Gareth Davies, one of the most respected members of his profession, learned that one of his clients, Michael Nyman, the pianist and composer, has a love of football. Today, Nyman will be interviewed on a Radio 1 chat show about his hobby - and about his new album.

Britain has never seen the "payola" scandals that some pluggers in cahoots with broadcasters inflicted on American radio in the Fifties, but even at its most wholesome the relationship between plugger, producer and presenter has tended to revolve around perks.

Mr Davies, however, says the days of buying costly meals for producers are long gone. At Radio 1 they don't necessarily agree. A spokeswoman said: "[Pluggers] tend to hand out concert tickets with a chauffeur-driven car to take you there and back."

Radio 1's new building will have two offices set aside for pluggers to meet producers or DJs. But the present liberal system will disappear. Appointments will have to be made and authorised.

Trevor Dann, Radio 1 head of production, said: "I don't personally see pluggers at all because, simply, there are so many I haven't got time. You have to have a contact ... Goal-hanging around Egton House is a crazy way of doing it."

Crazy or not, the pluggers may not be the only ones to be unsettled by the wind of change. Radio 1's managing editor Andy Parfitt said: "We are using the move to do a lot of things which will completely change the culture of the station."