Gary Crowley - How 'the youngest voice on radio' stays fresh

Paul Weller still likes to greet Gary Crowley with the words: "Ah, London's youngest DJ." It's the Modfather's quirky brand of humour, but also an acknowledgement that the BBC broadcaster has been round the block a few times, reports Ian Burrell.

Crowley, 48, was indeed once the youngest voice on the airwaves, when he grabbed the microphone on Capital FM and had his own show at the age of 19, an unprecedented honour in that era of radio.

He was also the first voice on air at Xfm, as the indie station struggled to make itself heard after launching the day after Princess Diana's death in 1997.

It's 30 years since Crowley began his radio career, as a co-presenter on Radio 1's In Concert programme. He had joined the BBC from NME, then the New Musical Express, where he took over on reception from Danny Baker, who had been appointed as a staff writer, alongside Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill.

He is now a presenter on the BBC's 6 Music network and BBC London, where he does two shows a week, but it almost seems as if Crowley had too much, too young, to quote a band from his formative years, The Specials.

A Londoner, his accent caused him problems from early in his career. "It was a time when people with an accent as strong as mine weren't given shows ... There were quite a few calls from parents saying 'Who's this kid on the radio, he can't talk properly, what are you doing giving him a radio show?'. I remember feeling really upset."

The pressure on national broadcasters to avoid being London-centric, probably hasn't helped him greatly. "In the past there has been a slight wariness to put people with London accents on a national platform," he says. "The powers that be have had to think 'What are we saying to people in Motherwell?' when the DJs are always talking about the weather in London."

But Crowley has been a respected guide to modern British musical trends for three decades. He has also toured Britain as the warm-up DJ and compère for Wham, The Jam and Oasis. Though he once tried to leave behind the music of his youth ("for a long time I couldn't go back and listen to that stuff"), he now recognises the advantages of interviewing artists when "I know a lot of them from first time round".

Weller wouldn't let him forget, anyway. "He's got a memory like an elephant," says Crowley. "I had an awful publicity photo where I must have looked like I'd fallen off a Haircut 100 album because I had a bow tie on. Even now, Paul says 'How's the little bow tie, have you still got that?'"

Ian Burrell