The voices of BBC radio celebrate its 90th birthday

Nick Grimshaw, John Humphrys, Colin Murray, Stuart Hall, Jonathan Agnew and more recall their favourite broadcasts and most memorable moments on air

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The voices of BBC radio celebrate its 90th birthday
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Nick Grimshaw and Ken BruceNick Grimshaw – Radio 1 Breakfast Show presenter

What’s been your biggest on-air disaster?
Once when I was doing Radio 1’s Weekend Breakfast Show, we thought it would be good to have Amy Winehouse on. And it was good. Until she went crazy. She was my X Factor correspondent. She was obsessed with it and I was obsessed with it and I thought it would be good to get another perspective. So it was all my idea. Unfortunately.

She came on and the producers said, “Is she going to swear?” I said, “Nooooo, she’ll be fine.” The producers spoke to her off-air and said, “You’re not going to swear, are you?” She said, “I have done interviews before, don’t you know?” So she came on and was really good. And then at the end she said, “Well, whatever, at the end of the day Simon Cowell’s just the f***ing devil, isn’t he?” I was like, “Thank you, Amy. Now it’s time for the news…”

Ken Bruce – Radio 2 DJ

What’s the finest piece of radio you’ve ever heard?
I won’t go for great big beautifully produced, wonderfully crafted bits of radio like one-off documentaries, great though they are. I’ll go for things that are wonderful to listen to again and again and again. When I was 20, I heard Ray Moore doing Breakfast Special on Radio 2 and I thought it was a work of absolute beauty. It was simply a man communicating beautifully, every day, in the same way, for three and a half hours.

Now? Test Match Special on Radio 4 LW or 5 Live Sports Extra is just a tapestry of such beauty. It’s got everything. It’s got facts, the beautiful little nuggets of commentary telling you what’s happening, and then it changes into something else entirely – and something completely unpredictable. It’s able to go its own way all the time. Even if I weren’t interested in cricket, I’d listen to that.

Suzy Klein and Cerys MatthewsSuzy Klein – Radio 3 presenter

What is the power of radio?
It’s by far the most intimate connection that broadcasting can ever make with anybody. The radio sits next to your bed, in your kitchen, in your car – it’s even on your MP3 player and phone now. When I’m doing the drivetime show (Radio 3’s In Tune), I think about people in their car on the motorway and they’re in a filthy mood, having sat in meetings all day. I ask myself how they’d feel and what they’d want to listen to. I think as a listener, because you’re not bothered or concentrating on pictures. What you concentrate on is content and also personalities. People connect with radio personalities because a microphone is all that mediates between them and you. It’s so simple. That’s the beauty of radio.

Cerys Matthews – 6 Music DJ

What radio do you listen to?
It’s Radio 4 mainly. The Today programme is part of my routine. I put the radio on, have my coffee and then after that the children know that they can talk to me. I like the presenters, the pace of it, the Thought for the Day. I just like the ritual. Ritual is important in people’s lives. It’s not full of fluff. It’s straight to the point and I like that. And there was a recent documentary on Radio 4. It was an older man teaching a younger presenter how to dance. It was just letting that man talk. He must have been in his 90s and his wife had already died. You had the feeling that you were in the lounge with him and he was recalling all these years gone by. The best documentaries make you love life and radio gets you closer.

Victoria DerbyshireVictoria Derbyshire – Radio 5 Live presenter

What’s been your favourite radio moment?
Picking one moment is really hard. Broadly speaking, I like edgy radio, unpredictable radio where you don’t quite know where it’s going next. An example is breaking news. When the riots began last year, Stephen Nolan was on air on 5 live on the Saturday night. The breaking news was a load of eyewitnesses ringing in from Tottenham describing buses on fire, running battles with the police, unbelievable scenes. It’s that kind of radio I like: you don’t know what’s going to be said because it’s unfolding on air. And the presenter is hearing it for the first time alongside the listener. That’s our raison d’être at 5 Live. Out of all the BBC radio stations, our job is to do breaking news.

Corrie Corfield and Neil NunesCorrie Corfield – Radio 4 continuity announcer

Your voice is so familiar. How do people react when meeting you in person?
I’m asked at dinner parties, “Go on, Corrie. Do the top of the Shipping Forecast,” especially when people have had a few. You think, “Don’t they get it? I’m just reading aloud!” I find it awkward having my photo taken because in people’s mind’s eye I could be anybody. It’s all about the voice. That’s what I love: the anonymity. And that makes it much more powerful. Twitter has been a fantastic thing, though – you realise people do listen to you. You can be there at 1am, closing down that network, and you’re the only person left in Broadcasting House. And then on my taxi drive home someone will tweet and say, “Lovely shift Corrie.”

Of course it’s not all compliments. I’ve got a letter in my downstairs loo at home that says, “Dear Miss Corfield. Please do shut up.”

Neil Nunes

With a voice as deep and resonant as yours, do you get letters from admirers?
I’ve had a marriage proposal! I’m afraid I turned them down. I have a fan club and what you might call the opposite of a fan club. It’s the personal nature of it. People feel, “It’s my station”; that they own it and have a say. I think that should be so. It’s personal and that’s the magic. “Radio is the theatre of the mind,” said [American broadcaster] Steve Allen. People have radios beside their head, in their headphones, in the bathroom so you go into a person’s space and they conjure up an image of you. The important thing for an announcer is not to be too well known.

John HumphrysJohn Humphrys – Radio 4, Today presenter

What’s the most memorable broadcast you’ve made?
It was in Soweto in South Africa. I used to be based there and went back to present Today from Johannesburg for the first elections after apartheid. The day before the election proper they opened the polling booths for the elderly, for pregnant women and the disabled. We went down to Soweto at 6am and it was an extraordinary sight. The queues went out of sight at every single booth. For the 8.10 lead I wanted to talk to someone live in the queue. I expected to get anger: “Apartheid’s over. We’re going to show these b*****ds who’s boss.” I approached this old lady and said, “So what does this mean for you?” I waited for the explosion, but she said, “For me, nothing really,” and I thought, “Oh God, this is going to be boring.” Then her voice rose and she patted the stomach of a pregnant woman next to her. “But for the baby in this woman’s belly, it means everything, because throughout his life he will have the dignity that has been denied me throughout mine.” Utterly perfect radio. It was 18 years ago but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Jonathan Agnew and Henry BlofeldJonathan Agnew – Test Match Special

Do you ever rehearse lines for a historic moment such as England winning The Ashes?
Yes. It’s the only time I do. It would be complacent not to. You know that whatever you say will be played and replayed and if you cock it up, it’ll live there for ever, so you owe it to everybody to ensure you get it right. It’s only maybe three sentences. You’re looking for something that gets the facts right – because you’re describing what’s happening. But you need to capture what it means. You definitely need that written down.

Henry Blofeld – Test Match Special

What’s your favourite radio memory?
The great thing about radio is that you’ve got no pictures, so your imagination comes totally into it. I remember vividly in 1953 – I was going to be 14 in September – listening to the Test Match at the Oval when England won the Ashes for the first time in 19 years. My parents had some friends staying and they were in the summer house in the garden. I listened to it in the hall and when each Australian wicket fell, I ran out into the garden with joy – and I can live that now again. Funnily enough, it was something I dreamt about the other day. Radio can have this hold on you.

Stuart Hall and Colin MurrayStuart Hall – Radio 5 Live

What’s the biggest disaster you’ve had on radio?
Once upon a time I reported Sheffield Wednesday v Leicester Fosse, on a grim, grimy November day, the match surrounded in grey fog. The final score: Wednesday 4, Leicester Fosse 4. I saw not a single goal. Only faint cheers informed me. A quandary: how do I report? The answer: describe all eight goals in hyperbolic detail. I have been lying ever since.

Colin Murray – Radio 5 Live

What’s the finest sports commentary you’ve heard?
It was the Arc de Triomphe in 2009 when See the Stars won. John Hunt was the commentator and the emotion in his voice was amazing. Even if you weren’t a fan of horse racing it was unforgettable. First there was his ability to set up just how important this race was. Then there was his commentary on the horse – not on the jockey but on the horse. And as he crossed the line, he had this line about See the Stars becoming an immortal. Every hair on my body was standing up. That’s how a radio commentary can bring an entire sport to life.


BBC Radio celebrates its 90th birthday throughout the week. Catch Radio Reunited, a special live simulcast on all networks - today at 5:33pm