Annie Nightingale, BBC Radio 1’s first female presenter and the station’s longest serving DJ, has died. She was 83.
Known as a champion for a wide-range of music including punk, acid house, hip-hop, techno and breakbeat, she was also co-host of legendary music show The Old Grey Whistle Test and until late last year continued to present her Radio 1 show Annie Nightingale Presents.
A statement attributed to her family said she “passed away at her home in London after a short illness.”
The statement continued: “Annie was a pioneer, trailblazer and an inspiration to many. Her impulse to share that enthusiasm with audiences remained 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 young 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.”
Tim Davie, director general of the BBC, called Nightingale a “uniquely gifted broadcaster,” adding, “As well as being a trailblazer for new music, she was a champion for female broadcasters, supporting and encouraging other women to enter the industry. We will all miss her terribly.”
Immediately after the news of her death was announced, tributes poured in from her fellow presenters.
BBC 6 Music DJ Lauren Laverne thanked Nightingale “for opening the door and for showing us all what to do when we got through it”, and former Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac described Nightingale as “a trailblazer, spirited, adventurous, fearless, hilarious, smart, and so good at her job… This is the woman who changed the face and sound of British TV and radio broadcasting forever. You can't underestimate it.”
Radio 2 host Jo Whiley said Nightingale was “The coolest woman who ever graced the airwaves. She blazed a trail for us all and never compromised. Her passion for music never diminished. Annie - My utmost respect and thanks for it all.”
Nightingale was born in Brentford, west London, on 1 April 1940, and according to popular legend, her very first word was “music.”
She began her career on the Brighton Argus aged 19, where, as the only female reporter on the paper, she wrote a music column covering the emerging new sounds coming out of London and Liverpool. That led to a slot on the music show That’s For Me, and later appearances on the BBC shows Juke Box Jury and, in 1966, The Light Programme.
The following year the BBC launched Radio 1 – and in 1970 she became the station’s first female presenter. During her very first broadcast, she briefly caused the whole station to go off air after accidentally pressing the wrong button. “Nobody showed me the technical side,” she said. “All the men had learned on the pirate [radio] ships. It was terrifying. I had a lot to prove.”
She remained at the BBC throughout the rest of her career, hosting the Radio 1 Request Show through three decades, before moving into a late-night slot. Throughout that time she continued to promote new music, most notably the acid house explosion of the late 80s and early 90s and then as an advocate of techno and breakbeat artists – earning her the nickname “Queen of Breaks”.
In 2002 she was made an MBE, and 17 years after that awarded a CBE. She remained broadcasting on Radio 1 with Annie Nightingale Presents, and hosted her last show on December 19 2023. Her final words on air were: “Lots of love, from me to you.”