Annie Nightingale, BBC Radio 1’s first female DJ, dies aged 83

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Zoe Ball and Annie Mac have hailed veteran DJ Annie Nightingale as the “original trailblazer for women in radio” following her death aged 83.

The broadcaster’s family confirmed the legendary radio presenter, the first female DJ to appear on BBC Radio 1, died at her home in London on Thursday following a short illness.

Ball, who hosts BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show and previously helmed the show on Radio 1, said she was “heartbroken” to hear the news as she described Nightingale as “the original trailblazer for us women in radio”.

She added: “She loved music like no other… and could out last any of us at the party.

“So grateful for all the love & support she offered me over the years. What a dame… rest well.”

Annie Mac, who hosted a variety of Radio 1 shows before leaving in 2021 after 17 years, described Nightingale as a “trailblazer, spirited, adventurous, fearless, hilarious, smart, and so good at her job”.

Alongside a black-and-white photo of a young Nightingale, she wrote: “This is the woman who changed the face and sound of British TV and Radio broadcasting forever. You can’t underestimate it.

“Before Annie Nightingale came on Radio 1, it was legitimately believed by BBC bosses that people didn’t want to hear women’s voices on the radio.”

Joining Radio 1 in 1970, Dublin-born Nightingale went on to become its longest serving presenter and built a reputation for championing underground artists.

A family statement said: “Annie Nightingale MBE passed away yesterday at her home in London after a short illness.

“Annie was a pioneer, trailblazer and an inspiration to many. Her impulse to share that enthusiasm with audiences remains undimmed after six decades of broadcasting on BBC TV and radio globally.

“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 your 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 One, is testimony to someone who never stopped believing in the magic of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Nightingale first broadcast on the BBC in 1963 as a panellist on Juke Box Jury before joining Radio 1 seven years later.

Remaining the station’s only female DJ until 1982, when Janice Long joined, she is credited with helping to pave the way for the likes of Sara Cox, Jo Whiley and Zoe Ball.

During her trailblazing career Nightingale was also the first woman to present the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test music show, on BBC Two. She wrote two autobiographies and her career, as well as the evolution of five decades of pop culture, are documented in her 2020 memoir Hey Hi Hello.

Over the years, she rubbed shoulders with music titans including the late David Bowie – who she brought to a pub to praise his talent after watching him open for another band when she was 22.

She also befriended The Beatles and was an occasional guest at their Apple Studios in London in the 60s.

During a special show with former BBC Radio 1 host Nick Grimshaw, she said Sir Paul McCartney once “sort of” proposed to her, adding: “But I don’t think he was serious.”

As a DJ she travelled the world, and once said she had been “mugged in Cuba, drugged in Baghdad and bugged in Russia”.

In 2021, Radio 1 launched a new scholarship for female and non-binary dance music DJs in her name.

Up until recently she still hosted her show, Annie Nightingale presents… on Radio 1. She held the Guinness World Record for the longest career as a female radio presenter.

Nightingale was made a CBE for services to radio in 2019, having previously been honoured with an MBE in 2002.

In a tribute posted on social media, Radio 1 said it was “extremely saddened” by the news of her passing, writing: “Our deepest condolences are with Annie’s friends and family at this incredibly difficult time. Rest in peace, Annie.”

The station’s head, Aled Haydn Jones, said: “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. We have lost a broadcasting legend and, thanks to Annie, things will never be the same.”

BBC Director-General Tim Davie hailed Nightingale as a “uniquely gifted broadcaster” and a “champion for female broadcasters“.

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