It has been nearly two years since the untimely death of John Peel, undoubtedly one of the greatest DJs of all time. Peel was certainly my first exposure to freeform radio, growing up in Germany, where I discovered his weekly two-hour show on BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) radio. It was so different from everything else on the radio, and even though I didn't always understand what he was saying, he seemed to be the nicest guy on the airwaves. I still remember how he introduced a new Napalm Death album, telling how he and his family listened to it while they drove south to Italy for the holidays. He liked the album but criticized that one could actually make out the individual instruments. And he didn't talk over the music, so I could tape it and make my own mixtapes.
When I moved to Berlin for college, I couldn't get BFBS anymore, and the BBC only had short 30-minute segments of John Peel at inconvenient times, so I didn't follow his show anymore. Eventually some Berlin radio station picked up the full two-hour weekly show for rebroadcasting, and hearing his voice and new musical picks always made me happy. One of the last occasions when I heard him live on the radio was a few years ago in England, where I turned on the radio to hear this familiar voice hosting an utterly stupid and boring talk show, Home Truths. But somehow his presence made even that show bearable.
Of course, eventually I discovered that John Peel was not the only person doing adventurous radio, and over the years I have found other shows and DJs which blew my mind, but I will always remember John Peel as the guy who turned me on to weird music and made me expect more of radio than hit parades and sports. And he certainly had a worldwide reach and influence, long before the explosion of the World Wide Web and streaming audio. He even twisted minds of listeners in small German villages, and probably in provincial towns all over the world. Nowadays my approach to radio is that if it doesn't blow your mind, it isn't worth listening. Blame John Peel for it.
There is only one way to close this post, namely with a version of his favorite song, Teenage Kicks by The Undertones, as performed by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. I have never heard him play this one, but I am sure he would have liked it. Judge for yourself: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - Teenage Kicks (MP3).