Obituary: Janice Long, trailblazing BBC radio DJ

Janice Long, DJ and broadcaster. Born: 5 April, 1955 in Liverpool. Died: 25 December, 2021, aged 66

Janice Long was the first woman to be given a daily show on Radio 1
Janice Long was the first woman to be given a daily show on Radio 1

With her cheerful enthusiasm and natural manner, Janice Long made broadcasting look and sound easy. She wore her trailblazing position as the first woman to host her own daily show on Radio 1 lightly because she was a fellow music fan first and foremost. She never succumbed to the showbiz cult of personality fostered by some of her fellow DJs, yet happily held her own as the first regular female presenter of Top of the Pops – so much so that she was invited back to co-host the final edition of the long-running music show in 2006.

Long, who has died aged 66 following a short illness, was described as good company by many of her colleagues, as well as her pop interviewees. She championed the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Smiths, Adele and Amy Winehouse at the start of their careers. Her listeners and viewers appreciated her as an unpretentious arbiter of taste, like a big sister eagerly pushing her fave raves in your direction, generous in sharing her insider knowledge.

For a generation of pop fans, it was Long rather than her fellow Liverpudlian, the more feted John Peel, who was responsible for guiding musical tastes and understanding during her mid-80s tenure on the Radio 1 evening show with her focus on new music and breaking bands – a reputation her paymasters failed to understand when she was ousted from the schedules for having the audacity to fall pregnant. Long’s response was to take her talents and resourcefulness to a number of other stations, including serving almost 20 years at Radio 2. She was still broadcasting a couple of weeks before her death from pneumonia on Christmas Day.

Janice Long was born Janice Chegwin in Liverpool in 1955. Her younger twin brothers Jeff and Keith found success, the former in music PR and the latter as a cheeky chappie children’s TV presenter on Swap Shop and Cheggers Plays Pop. His sister shared his effervescent zest for life but added a degree of street savvy. However, she was initially rejected for a job at Radio Merseyside because of a lack of life experience. She sought to rectify that over the next couple of years, working as a fruitpicker, shop assistant and cabin crew for Laker Airways.

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She married Trevor Long in 1977. A year later, Long made her first TV appearance when the couple featured as contestants on the opening episode of TV quiz programme 3-2-1. They failed to decode the show’s infamously tenuous clues to win the star prize of a new car, instead going home with a five-piece silver tea service – “worth nearly £2000” according to host Ted Rogers – which they duly sold in order to put down a deposit on a house.

Radio Merseyside, meanwhile, had not forgotten Long, offering her a job as a station assistant in 1979. She quickly moved into presenting her own Sunday evening show, called Streetlife, with a focus on promoting Liverpool’s fertile post-punk scene. Long conducted Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s first radio interview and played an early demo of their future smash Relax, nudged to Number One via an unofficial ban by Long’s next employers, Radio 1.

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At DJ Paul Gambaccini’s recommendation, she was recruited to a Saturday evening show before moving to the weekday evening slot she would occupy for the next five years. Annie Nightingale had paved the way in the man’s world of Radio 1 but Long was the first woman to be given a daily detail, forming an nighttime tag team for new music and live sessions with fellow music maven John Peel.

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Her colleagues Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq hailed her Radio 1 show as a template for their own Evening Session – not quite as esoteric as Peel’s eclectic mix but with a certain cool cachet. Long and Peel formed a playful double act on Top of the Pops but it was Long who was asked to helm the backstage coverage at Live Aid in 1985.

However, her household name status was not enough to protect her position through maternity leave. Released from her contract in 1988, she movedto Greater London Radio (now BBC Radio London) where she presented the breakfast show.

Long continued to fly the flag for new music in the fledgling days of Xfm before returning to her native Liverpool where she founded alternative rock and dance station Crash FM (now Capital Liverpool) in 1995.

The BBC beckoned again in the 2000s, where Amy Winehouse was among the artists to benefit from her passionate patronage. In addition to her years at Radio 2, Long was one of the original presenters on digital station BBC Radio 6 Music. Her most recent regular gigs were an evening show on BBC Radio Wales and a Saturday afternoon show on Greatest Hits Radio.

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Long’s honours include a lifetime achievement award from the Liverpool Music Awards, a British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors Gold Badge, an honorary doctorate from Edge Hill University for her commitment to music, and a place in the Royal College of Art’s 2018 First Women UK exhibition, which celebrated 100 pioneering 21st century British females.

Female DJs are no longer regarded as outliers in the industry, but Janice Long was an inspiring role model at a time when the presentation and curation of music was almost exclusively the preserve of men. She made her mark firmly and deliberately by simply being an excellent broadcasterwith a down-to-earth demeanour. In one of many tributes from the Liverpudlian musicians she supported, Pete Wylie described her as “the best friend a boy could have…”.

She is survived by her second husband Paul Berry, their children, Fred and Blue, her father Colin and brother Jeff.

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