He’s the man who launched Radio 1, sacked sexual predator DJ Jimmy Savile, and founded the legendary Radio 1 Roadshow.
But ask former BBC Radio 1 controller Johnny Beerling what has been the proudest moment of his career and he doesn’t hesitate - it was being responsible for the sound at the world-wide music extravaganza Live Aid.
Johnny, who lives at Rudgwick, says: “Live Aid was the biggest pop festival of its kind. It had so many artists appearing and it was for such a worthy cause.”
But staging the famine fundraising concert - which at one time had Phil Collins performing at Wembley before catching a Concorde flight to the US and appearing in Philadelphia - was fraught with problems. “Bob Geldof said: ‘You are not getting the broadcasting rights unless I can appeal for money’ and that wasn’t the sort of thing the BBC did.” There were union problems too, wrangles between TV and radio sound engineers and complicated technicalities including the erection of a revolving stage which, as one band finished their set and was being de-rigged, another band was starting their act.
“Towards the end,” says Johnny, “Paul McCartney started playing the opening of Let It Be but there was a problem with the mic and you couldn’t hear his voice. It was one minute and 40 seconds of sheer agony.
“But afterwards, for the DVD, Paul McCartney put the vocal in, so you couldn’t tell from listening to it.”
Johnny, now 80, started his career running a radio station in Aden while serving as a National Serviceman in the RAF.
He joined the BBC as a studio manager before becoming a producer for the Light Programme. In 1967 the Marine Offences Bill led to the closure of pirate radio and the BBC set up Radio 1 as a legal alternative.
Johnny was at the forefront of the station’s creation. He recruited most of the DJs, devised jingles and produced the first ever show with Tony Blackburn - with whom he’s still friends - on September 30 1967. He went on to become executive producer - the first producer of the legendary Terry Wogan (“he was such a nice guy”) - and came up with the idea of the Radio 1 Roadshow.
“I didn’t want people thinking of us as just a London show. When the roadshow started it was a man in a box playing records on the beach in Newquay with the audience drinking Scrumpy cider all day.”
But the roadshow went from strength to strength with all the top DJs of the day touring Britain’s coastline performing to 500,000 young music fans a year.
When Johnny was promoted to controller of Radio 1 in 1985, one of the things he tried to change was to introduce DJs who were “more interested in selling the music rather than selling themselves.
“All DJs are egotists - you have got to be if you are going to sit there five days a week talking to a microphone. All the best ones were those who were themselves, the same on air as off.”
Apart from Tony Blackburn, others included Simon Mayo, David Hamilton, Keith Skues, Mike Smith, Kenny Everett, Simon Bates, Steve Wright and Mike Read to name but a few.
It was two years after Johnny became Radio 1 controller that he sacked Jimmy Savile, not because anyone realised what criminal activities Savile had been up to or because he had broken any BBC policy guidelines. It was, says Johnny “because he was boring for the audience.”
Throughout his time at Radio 1, Johnny helped the station become one of the leading music broadcasting stations in the world with a weekly audience of more than 19 million listeners.
You can read the inside story of just what happened in a new book written by Johnny himself - Inside Radio 1.
Says Johnny: “The book is available from my web site, and I will sign ever yone I send out.” Go to www.johnnybeerling.co.uk/mybook
And does he listen to Radio 1 now? “No, now I listen to Radio 4 and Classic FM,” says Johnny, “and that’s as it should be.
“If Radio 1 is doing its job properly it should be catering for people under 25.”