Obituaries: Steve Wright, innovative broadcaster and DJ who commanded armies of listeners

​Steve Wright, DJ and broadcaster. Born: 26 August, 1954 in Greenwich, London. Died: 12 February, 2024 in Marylebone, London, aged 69
Steve Wright’s success was founded on his relaxed, everyman persona (Picture: Ian West/PA Wire)Steve Wright’s success was founded on his relaxed, everyman persona (Picture: Ian West/PA Wire)
Steve Wright’s success was founded on his relaxed, everyman persona (Picture: Ian West/PA Wire)

Steve Wright was one of only a small coterie of British broadcasters who can truly be hailed as the voice of a nation – the irony being that he built his reputation on a multitude of voices. The characters invented for his Radio 1 afternoon show, from Sid the Manager via Gervais the Hairdresser to Mr Angry from Purley (an affectionate parody of irate radio phone-in callers) were a veritable ministry of silly voices and when the show flitted to Radio 2, he presided over his Afternoon Posse of trusty real-life sidekicks, Janey Lee Grace, Tim Smith, Bobbie Pryor, Sally Traffic and others in the room, to pioneer the “zoo radio” format in the UK.

Across a broadcasting career of more than four decades, from Radio 1 young gun in the Eighties to Radio 2 stalwart, Wright, who has died suddenly aged 69, was alive to innovation, a questing workaholic who was rewarded for his dynamism with audiences of eight million at the peak of his career.

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His success was founded on his relaxed everyman persona, the impish but steady MC who operated a level playing field, whether he was interviewing the superstar likes of Paul McCartney, Joan Rivers, Rihanna and Amy Winehouse or reading out audience requests on Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs, where he expertly balanced sincerity and schmaltz. The price of entry? Simply a declaration that you “love the show, Steve”.

Wright had been a fixture of the airwaves since January 1980 when he netted his first Radio 1 broadcasting gig. This came with privileges, not least presenting Top of the Pops. Wright was always more comfortable on radio, but his gentle irreverence translated well to TOTP.

Later, he became the voice of their archive clips show TOTP2 as well as Auntie’s TV Favourites. He was clearly trusted with BBC nostalgia – one of his latest gigs was inheriting the Pick of the Pops mantle from Paul Gambaccini.

Wright also presented Home Truths and Steve Wright’s People Show in the mid-Nineties but the jewel in his crown was the long-running Steve Wright in the Afternoon, with its daily and weekly features, from Factoids to Friday’s Serious Jockin’, and conversations with the Posse which seemed to mirror the office or pub chat of the nation.

Wright described his format as “a tabloid newspaper of the airwaves” – this was mass market broadcasting and Wright was privately devastated though publicly sanguine when the show was cancelled in 2022. The last record played on the show was Radio Gaga, Queen’s anthemic tribute to the golden age of radio.

Radio 1 colleagues past and present were shocked by his sudden passing and fulsome in their praise. Jeremy Vine remarked that “he still sounded like he did when he was 30”, Nicky Campbell hailed his “brain like quicksilver” and Scott Mills, who took over his Radio 2 afternoon slot, said “he made everything sound effortless. Jo Whiley captured his legacy, claiming Wright was "an utter perfectionist when it came to radio. No-one cared more about the quality of what came out of your speakers than Wrighty.”

He unwittingly inspired The Smiths’ 1986 single Panic when he followed a news report on the Chernobyl disaster with a spin of Wham!’s I’m Your Man, prompting the lyric “hang the blessed DJ, because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life”. The band doubled down by marketing a Hang the DJ T-shirt with Wright’s face on it. Wright kept calm, carried on and bought a T-shirt.

However, following the collapse of his marriage to Cyndi Robinson in 1999, he chose to live modestly in a flat close to Broadcasting House – this, despite being at one time the BBC’s fifth highest earner – and was described by his friend Mark Wells as a “hypochondriac” with an unhealthy diet who was “the first and only person I’ve ever seen do their own dentistry”.

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He was born Steven Richard Wright to father Richard and mother June, and grew up with younger brother Laurence in South London.

The family moved to Southend-on-Sea where Wright ran his own radio station from his school stock cupboard.

He left school with three O-levels and undertook a succession of short-lived jobs, including insurance clerk, telephone engineer and working backstage at a theatre but he kept up his interest in broadcasting by running his own jingle business and volunteering on hospital radio.

He joined the BBC as a library clerk and researcher in the early Seventies, but had to look elsewhere for his first presenting gigs, fronting the Wright and Read Show with one Mike Read on Thames Valley radio and briefly moving to Radio Luxembourg in 1979 before joining a new-look Radio 1 in 1980.

His first gigs were Saturday evening and Saturday morning shows before becoming an established presence on weekday afternoons.

Steve Wright in the Afternoon ran on Radio 1 until 1993. Wright was moved to the Breakfast Show for a year, but this was not a happy stint and he quit following a disagreement with incoming Radio 1 Controller Matthew Bannister, to be replaced as breakfast host by Chris Evans.

He moonlighted on commercial radio for a short time before finding his home on Radio 2, presenting Sunday Love Songs from 1996 and Steve Wright in the Afternoon from 1999.

Wright was a star broadcaster but no celebrity, remaining quiet on the impact of Robinson’s death in July 2020 and his own heart bypass surgery in 2022.

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His son Tom returned from the States to care for his father in his last months, when he was somewhat belatedly awarded an MBE in the 2024 New Year’s Honours List for services to radio.


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