Most of my memories about ‘The Word‘ are of behind the scenes struggles to somehow get that show dancing to my tune . When I first got a call inviting me to audition for this, as yet un-named, youth TV show back in November of 1989, I initially turned it down. I’d been working in radio for 8 years; won two national Sony Radio Awards in the Best Specialist Music category in 1985 and 1986 and been the radio presenter in Manchester who’d pushed what became known as the Madchester scene onto a wider audience. Yet I had struggled, because of my accent to land a national radio slot , so I just assumed there was no chance of being on TV. Also I was quite shy and had never harboured any particular ambition to work on television.
When I was eventually offered the presenter role on this new as yet un-named Channel 4 show I was under the impression it’d be a little programme tucked away at 6pm on a Friday night, that may help me get that job as the next John Peel on Radio One . The zeitgeist was on my side, I was from Manchester; Manchester was hip and happening. I was the DJ in Manchester playing all those rather obscure bands such as The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets,and A Guy Called Gerald etc and writing about them in my weekly Manchester Evening News page – called The Word. Hence my rather self interested suggestion that we should call the show that.
My vision for the show was that it should be fiercely irreverent yet culturally relevant. In my mind we’d be making a show that should cater more for that 14-18 year age group than 21 year old graduates. A show that would basically take a night out and deliver those elements into your living room and then be talked about all week until the next one came along .
The Word was a show with viewing figures that were still increasing when it was pulled. It was a show where I was easily able to convince the team that each week we should feature at least one black artist. This came from the area of inner city Manchester where I grew up , where I’d see mates of Jamaican descent excitedly calling family members in from the kitchen whenever anyone black appeared on TV. Not for politically correct reasons, but because the music demanded it and media industries were still so subconsciously racist .
The Word is still being slated and denigrated all these years later by the home county small satellite town cultural commentators. Yet here it is 25 years later and clips are still being strewn all over television like so much confetti. We made mistakes. I particularly hated The Hopefuls strand that ran for half of series 4 and half of series 5 because to me it was a gimmick , a contrivance; it wasn’t needed and eclipsed a lot of great work.
Its positive impact on that era was a sense of inclusivity; we hit that target audience like a smart missile. Badly Drawn Boy was inspired to become a songwriter and musician after seeing The John Spencer Blues Explosion on The Word. The Cribs, as youngsters, dreamt about being in a band and getting on The Word. No other show in that era would have given you the variety of music we brought whether it was UK TV debuts for Nirvana, Mary J Blige, Snoop Dogg or worldwide debuts for Oasis ( six weeks of arguing the toss to get them on the show) and many more. It also inspired a lot of jealousy in the industry and especially those media commentators who kept predicting its demise . In fact their constant sniping, even today ,reminds me that
there’s no fury like that of control freaks losing control. As the late Tony Wilson once said,’Some people make money others make history.‘ The Word made TV history and was, and is, still unique. As for me, so far I haven’t managed to land that national radio slot to become the next John Peel but I’m still hoping.