The Liverpool radio and TV presenter who inspired generations of music fans
LIKE many indie kids of my generation, Janice Long was a big influence when I was growing up. She was a trailblazer - the first woman to present Top of the Pops, the first female to have her own daily show on BBC Radio 1, and one of the main presenters of the Live Aid charity concert in 1985.
Janice Long gave the first airtime and sessions to many who are now huge stars
Janice was a joy to watch and listen to. She was a natural broadcaster; bubbly but cool, with a cheeky sense of humour and an incredible collection of hats. She raved about bands like The Smiths, Wah!, New Order, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and The Soup Dragons.
It was a revolution compared to the likes of Steve Wright, Mike Read, and Dave Lee Travis, who all seemed more interested in bopping along with the girls in the TOTP studio audience than appreciating the music. If Janice and her friend John Peel were presenting, I’d know it was going to be a good one, and hit record on the Betamax.
Janice started her broadcasting career in 1979 as a station assistant at BBC Radio Merseyside. Two years later she began presenting the Streetlife programme, concentrating on the local music scene. She was then recruited to Radio 1 from 1982-1987, after Paul Gambaccini recommended her as the best interviewer he had encountered on a nationwide book tour.
Long’s success at Radio 1 ended in 1988 after she gave birth to her first child and was never invited back to work at the station. In 1989, she joined Greater London Radio and after stints at BBC Radio Five and XFM, moved back to Liverpool in 1995.
1995 was a crucial year for music. Britpop broke into the mainstream and Blur battled with Oasis. Pulp scored their first number one album after a decade in the business. Matthew Bannister shook up the Radio 1 playlists and both Bruno Brookes and Steve Wright left the station, making way for Chris Evans on the breakfast show slot.
Determined to follow in Janice’s footsteps, I started presenting a music show on student radio and got an unpaid job as a broadcast assistant for Radio Merseyside. The programme was Streetlife with presenter Marc Jones at the helm. Interviewing the likes of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, The Boo Radleys, Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, and Space, I’d like to think I did Janice proud on the Sunday night show.
Our paths crossed briefly when I was a volunteer at Crash FM, a station launched by Janice and Bernie Connor as Liverpool's answer to XFM. Somehow, I also managed to end up as a guest on one of Janice’s late night chat shows on BBC radio. The topic of conversation was CD:UK, a new ITV chart show that was out to rival Top of the Pops.
A group discussion on my specialist subject should have been a breeze, but when it was my turn to speak - I froze. I still remember that reassuring “never mind love” look on Janice’s face as she laughed it off and then swiftly moved onto the next track.
I never did make it big in radio (unsurprisingly) but Janice’s influence is still with me in a record collection that now spans more than four decades.
Her support and enthusiasm for brand new artists continued with popular shows on Radio Two and Six Music. She gave the first airtime and sessions to many who are now huge stars, such as Adele, Primal Scream, Amy Winehouse and the Manic Street Preachers.
Janice presented her final show on BBC Radio Wales on 9 December 2021.
Pete Wylie of Wah!, whose 1982 hit single, Story of the Blues, was one of Janice’s favourite songs, said Janice was ultra-professional. Not, by her own admission, slick, but always in the moment - listening eagerly to the latest releases and the classics and most importantly every answer in a well-researched interview.
Holly Johnson says it was the start of a lifelong friendship when Janice became the first person in the world to interview Frankie Goes To Hollywood for Radio Merseyside’s Streetlife.
Holly and Janice joined forces again in 2017 for the radio series A Long Walk With… as the two explored key places in Liverpool’s musical heritage.
“She was the first to play us on the radio when she played the demo of Relax,” tweeted the band, as the news of her death broke on Boxing Day.
“Always had our back.”
Janice Long; 5 April 1955 - 25 December 2021
Presented by Zoe Ball, Janice Long: A Life in Music will air on Sunday 23 January, 7pm - 9pm, broadcast on BBC Radio Two, with a simulcast with BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Merseyside.
The star-studded tribute will include memories from her family, friends, colleagues and artists from the music world that she supported during her career. Guests include Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Ian Broudie, Andy McCluskey, Sandie Shaw, Peter Hook, Gary Numan, and more.
Get the latest news to your inbox
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email by signing up to our mailing list. This is one of the ways that Confidentials remains free to our readers and by signing up you help support our high quality, impartial and knowledgable writers. Thank you!