The sun is out, the music's hot, but Richard Greaves is cool. As Radio 1 Roadshow manager he has to be. Harvey McGavin reports
JOB:Radio 1 Roadshow Manager
Hello Southend!" shouts DJ Nicky Campbell. A mild hysteria grips Priory Park as 5,000 Essex girls and boys scream in response: "WAAARGH!".
Pop music, rather than the idea of Southend, is what's getting the teenage crowd so excited. The revamped Radio 1 Roadshow has come to town.
A year ago, the station was losing listeners by the million as controller Matthew Bannister's new regime was judged a big turn off. Out went the 40-something DJs, the inane chatter, and the middle of the road playlist. In came young, street-smart disc jockeys, riding on a Pounds 2 million advertising campaign, projecting a happening, no-nonsense approach. As a result, Radio 1 has won back 600,000 listeners in the past three months - half of them under 24. "Our major aim," Mr Bannister declares, "is to be the sound of the young United Kingdom." The screaming adolescents must be music to his ears.
Richard Greaves, the Roadshow tour manager, is old enough to be their dad. He's 50 next birthday and a father of two. "I've got two boys - the 20-year-old loves the Roadshow but the 14-year-old can't stand it."
"There aren't many people my age left," he admits. He's been working on the Roadshow for 10 summers. "When I started it was quite a small operation but the crowds have just got bigger and bigger. This is the best one for years. "
The Roadshow's come a long way since its humble beginnings back in 1972 when Alan "Fluff" Freeman broadcast from a caravan in Newquay. It now covers 4,000 miles and visits 36 seaside resorts in its seven-week tour. The small convoy of lorries, merchandising and back-up vehicles is on site by 6.30 in the morning. By 9am it's fully rigged and playing music. The warm-up starts at 10.30am and the Roadshow is live on air from 11.30am to 12.30pm.
The whole lot is dismantled within an hour of the end of the show, ready to move on to the next day's venue, which can be up to 100 miles away.
A slick operation and an exhausting schedule by any standards. But Richard - a survivor of three long-distance sponsored walks with cricketer Ian Botham - is used to the pace.
"It's a real team effort, it has to be," says Richard, who spends nine months of the year organising the Roadshow, one of them travelling the country to look for suitable sites.
"An enormous amount of time is spent on safety. Ever since Hillsborough, it's a different world. We often get people from local councils coming along to see how the Roadshow operates. We have a seated crowd and that's a massive safety factor - it really does help."
The biggest crowd they ever had was 120,000 for Radio 1's 21st birthday in Birmingham. "We get a lot of excited children coming along but we've been going 23 years and," he touches wood, "we have never had an accident in all that time."
Safety is a priority but in the new-look roadshow the emphasis is on fun. A huge video screen shows scrambled pop promos mixed with shots of the crowd, bands leap about the gleaming silver stage and the dance music pumps. It's a free day out for the local kids, but it is also a big public relations event. The front line is a ratings war.
"It's a great atmosphere," enthuses Richard. "The kids get an opportunity to see disc jockeys that they only ever hear on the radio, and a chance to see live bands while sitting in a hot sunny park. Something we do more and more of these days is live music. It gives young bands a chance to work a crowd. "
And the crowd (girls to boys ratio about two to one) get a chance to check out the pop talent on display. Take That, Eternal and East 17 all performed on the Roadshow before finding chart success and inciting teenybop mania.
A gaggle of teenage girls hang along the backstage barriers, watching the pretty boy wannabe popstars kicking a football around. Occasionally one of them comes across to sign autographs, have a chat and pose for a photograph.
The bands performing at Southend are clean-cut and career-minded with optimistic names like Eurogroove, Get Ready and Big Wide World. Judging by the noise, the crowd loves them already.
Hundreds of teenagers are sitting in the summer sunshine, waving their hands in the air, clapping in time with the music, and trying to see themselves on the accompanying video screen. It's hardly rock 'n' roll, but they like it.