Annie Nightingale death: Veteran DJ who was Radio 1’s first female presenter dies, aged 83

Family described broadcaster as a ‘trailblazer’ in statement

Ellie Muir
Friday 12 January 2024 13:21 GMT
Radio One DJ Annie Nightingale reveals how she 'stays relevant' in resurfaced clip

Veteran BBC Radio 1 presenter Annie Nightingale has died, aged 83.

The radio star, who was the station’s first-ever female presenter, died on Thursday (11 January) following a short illness, according to her family, who said in a statement: “Annie was a pioneer, trailblazer and an inspiration to many. Her impulse to share that enthusiasm with audiences remained undimmed after six decades of broadcasting on BBC TV and radio globally.”

They continued: “Never underestimate the role model she became. Breaking down doors by refusing to bow down to sexual prejudice and male fear gave encouragement to generations of young women who, like Annie, only wanted to tell you about an amazing tune they had just heard.

“Watching Annie do this on television in the 1970s, most famously as a presenter on the BBC music show The Old Grey Whistle Test, or hearing her play the latest breakbeat techno on Radio 1 is testimony to someone who never stopped believing in the magic of rock’n’roll. A celebration of her life will take place in the spring at a memorial service.

“The family request privacy at this time. Alex, Lucy, Ollie and Will.”

Born in Osterley, west London, in 1940, Nightingale began her career as a journalist while living in Brighton as a general reporter for the Brighton and Hove Gazette in the mid-1960s.

Initially, Nightingale had applied for a job as a Radio 1 DJ but was rejected on the grounds of being a woman. Eventually, she was given a trial run at the station and was signed as its first female DJ in 1970.

She began hosting daily afternoon slots, taking over the reins from Terry Wogan, and remained the only female DJ at Radio 1 for 12 years from 1970 until 1982 when she was joined by Janice Long.

Nightingale at the 2010 Women of the Year awards in London

Later, Nightingale moved to a Sunday afternoon slot on Radio 1 and also hosted a Friday night music chat show with live guests such as The Who, Sting and Duran Duran.

She was known for her passion for a wide range of music, championing everything from punk to acid house, as well as supporting emerging musicians.

Nightingale remained on air until late last year with her eponymous show Annie Nightingale Presents.

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“Every week, in my job, is a new adventure. I enjoy it,” she said last July. “People don’t understand. Most people get bored with pop music when they’re a certain age. I go on being interested in where it’s going, the twists and turns.”

Nightingale at her Brighton home in 1964

Speaking on an episode of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 2020, Nightingale said that while growing up as a child during the Second World War, listening to the radio was her main pastime, and she revealed that the first word she ever said as a toddler was “music”.

In 2002, Nightingale was awarded an MBE for her services to radio broadcasting (advanced to CBE in 2020). Then, in 2004, she was the first female DJ from Radio 1 to be inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame. She holds the world record for having the longest career as a female radio presenter.

Nightingale published three memoirs: Chase the Fade (1981), Wicked Speed (1999), and Hey Hi Hello: Five Decades of Pop Culture from Britain’s First Female DJ (2020). Her close friend Paul McCartney commissioned her to write a book to accompany the re-releases of his albums Tug of War and Pipes of Peace.

Longtime listeners, friends and former colleagues of Nightingale have been paying tribute to the late broadcaster on social media.

Nightingale and fellow broadcaster Fearne Cotton with the Special Award, at the Sony Radio Academy Awards in 2011

One listener praised Nightingale as “one of the most musically literate DJs” and someone who “always talked to and not down to her audience”.

Radio 1 presenter Greg James said on X/Twitter that everyone at the station will “miss her so much,” adding: “It was such a treat if you happened to be in the building at the same time as her. She was always so interested in what everyone else was up to.”

Broadcaster Zoe Ball said she was “heartbroken” by the news and called Nightingale “the original trailblazer for us women in radio”.

BBC 1Xtra and Radio 2 DJ Trevor Nelson wrote on X that Nightingale made him “feel like music broadcasting is for life. Rave in peace”.

DJ David Rodigan said he was “saddened” by the death of Nightingale, who he called “one of our greatest broadcasters.” He added: “Her mellifluous voice and passion for championing new music made her a true icon. She will be forever in our hearts.”

Annie Mac, who hosted a variety of Radio 1 shows for 17 years before leaving in 2021, described Nightingale as a “trailblazer, spirited, adventurous, fearless, hilarious, smart, and so good at her job”. Meanwhile, Glastonbury Festival co-organiser Emily Eavis remembered her as “an inspiration to so many women in music’ and a ‘lovely human being”.

Radio 1’s current boss Aled Haydn Jones said in a statement: “All of us at Radio 1 are devastated to lose Annie, our thoughts are with her family and friends.

“Annie was a world-class DJ, broadcaster and journalist, and throughout her entire career was a champion of new music and new artists.

Nightingale in 1970, the year she joined the BBC as their first female radio DJ

“She was the first female DJ on Radio 1 and over her 50 years on the station was a pioneer for women in the industry and in dance music.

“We have lost a broadcasting legend and, thanks to Annie, things will never be the same.”

Nightingale shares two children, Alex and Lucy, with her first husband, writer Gordon Thomas, whom she divorced in 1970. Her second marriage, to the actor Binky Baker in 1978, also ended in divorce.

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