The thing that really draws us into radio often isn’t the music played or the information broadcast, it’s the personalities and voices of the DJs and presenters behind the microphone.
The UK’s airwaves have been blessed with hundreds of great radio presenters since the first radio station, 2MT, started broadcasting in 1922.
It’s hard to pick out the best radio DJs, and everyone will have their personal favourite.
In this article, we’ve listed some of the most influential current and former radio DJs and presenters in the UK.
Current DJs and Presenters
Tony Blackburn began his career as a DJ on the pirate radio stations Radio London and Radio Caroline. In 1967 he joined the BBC, broadcasting on the Light Programme (the precursor to BBC Radio 2).
Blackburn’s was the first voice to be heard when BBC Radio 1 Launched on 30 September 1967.
Blackburn now hosts Sounds of the 60s on BBC Radio 2.
Chris Evans currently hosts one of the most popular radio shows in the UK, The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio. Evans previously had the breakfast slot on Radio 2, having taken over from Terry Wogan in 2010.
Evans is known for his high-energy style and for being one of the highest-paid presenters in the UK.
John Humphrys has presented BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning news and current affairs programme Today since 1987.
Today is the most listened-to programme on BBC Radio 4, and is considered one of the most influential programmes in setting the news agenda. The programme has helped Humphrys’ become one of the most recognisable voices on radio.
Humphrys is known for his tough and persistent interview style.
Though he no longer broadcasts in the UK, Christian O’Connell is one of Britain’s most popular radio DJs of recent years.
Since emigrating to Australia in May 2018, Christian O’Connell has hosted The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show on Gold 104.3 in Melbourne.
Before that, he hosted The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show on Absolute Radio.
O’Connell has won more awards than any other British radio presenter, including 11 Sony Radio Academy Gold awards.
Eddie Mair has hosted the weekday drivetime 4-6 pm slot on LBC since September 2018. He previously hosted Today on Radio 4 from 1998 to 2018, where he became known for his witty and ironic take on current affairs.
A 2005 poll in the Radio Times listed Mair as the fifth most powerful person in British radio (source).
Chris Moyles hosts The Chris Moyles Show on Radio X, which broadcasts on weekday from 6.30-10.00 am. Before that, he was a presenter at BBC Radio 1 from 1997 to 2012.
Moyles’ listening figures were highest when hosting the breakfast show on Radio 1 between 2004 and 2012. The show was listened to by over 7 million people a week in 2008 according to RAJAR figures.
Annie Nightingale was the first female presenter on BBC Radio 1 when she joined the station in 1970. She is currently the station’s longest-running presenter.
Nightingale currently hosts the 01.00-03.00 am slot on Wednesday mornings with a show called Annie Nightingale Presents.
Nightingale was awarded the MBE for her services to broadcasting in 2002.
Former DJs and Presenters
From 1946 to 2004 Alistair Cooke recorded a series of 15-minute talks called Letter from America on BBC Radio 4 (and its predecessor the Home Service) and the BBC World Service.
Letter from America gave listeners in Britain and across the world an insight into topical issues in the United States.
Originally only confirmed for 13 instalments, Letter from America racked up 2,869 episodes until Cooke retired at the age of 95.
Kenny Everett (1944-1995), whose legal name was Maurice James Christopher Cole, was a comedian and DJ known for his humorous and irreverent style and use of comedic voices and characters.
Everett turned down an offer to worth on the Light Programme (the forerunner to BBC Radio 2) in favour of working for pirate radio station Radio London. It was here that he adopted the pseudonym Kenny Everett to avoid legal problems from working in pirate radio.
Everett was friends with the Beatles, and went on their August 1966 tour of the USA with them, from where he recorded daily reports for Radio London.
He was one of BBC Radio 1’s first DJs when it launched in 1967.
John Peel (1939-2004), whose legal name was John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, was one of BBC Radio 1’s longest-serving presenters, having been a regular fixture on the station since it launched in 1967 to his death in 2004.
Peel had eclectic tastes, and Radio 1 exposed listeners to a wide variety of genres from progressive rock to dub reggae.
Peel’s first radio gig was for the station WRR in Dallas, Texas, where he was working for an insurance firm.
Peel presented a few other radio shows in the USA before returning to the UK where he first worked for pirate radio station Radio London, then for BBC Radio 1. His first show on Radio 1 was called Top Gear, and had no connection to the TV show of the same name!
Terry Wogan, or Sir Michael Terence Wogan (1938-2016), was an Irish radio and TV presenter whose Wake Up to Wogan show on BBC Radio 2 was the most popular radio programme in the UK for years.
Wogan started his radio career at RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster. He first joined the BBC in 1966, working for the Light Programme (the precursor to BBC Radio 2).
Wogan took over the breakfast slot on BBC Radio 2 in 1972, where he reached up to 7.6 million listeners (source).
He left the breakfast show in 1984 to focus on television before returning to BBC Radio 2 to host Wake Up to Wogan from 1993 until 2009.
Wake Up to Wogan had a huge and loyal listenership, whom Wogan referred to as “TOGs”, or “Terry’s Old Geezers”. The show regularly topped radio ratings, reaching over 8 million weekly listeners by the end of 2009 (source).
Wogan returned to BBC Radio 2 to host the weekly show Weekend Wogan from 2010 to 2015, when he left due to ill health.