Farewell Scott Mills: The Cristiano Ronaldo of pop radio | Radio

OWhen Scott Mills welcomed listeners to his first BBC Radio 1 show, less than 10% of UK homes had internet, Mark Zuckerberg was just 14 and Radio 1’s playlist included B*Witched’s Rollercoaster, Billie’s Girlfriend Piper and Would You (Go to bed with me) by Touch & Go.

Mills wrote in his autobiography about his 1998 debut that he had “no personality” and spent most of the time between songs reading the station’s phone number over and over. Even so, no one called and he expected to be fired within months.

Instead, he had one of the longest tenures in Radio 1 history. At a youth-obsessed station, where presenters are typically moved every few years – Mills, 48, is the Cristiano Ronaldo of pop radio, staying in top form long after his former teammates moved on to local stations or management jobs.

But you can’t dodge Radio 2’s hand forever and Mills’ final show on Radio 1, alongside co-host Chris Stark, airs today before he takes over from Steve Wright on the sister station. next month (he says it’s his decision and that Radio 1 was willing to offer him another two-year contract).

It came a decade after Howard Stern invented the zoo radio format, where producers and other staff become on-air characters, which was introduced to UK radio by Chris Evans and Chris Moyles. But all of these hosts cornered the spotlight, using a cast of sidekicks mostly to reinforce that they were the star of the show. Mills knocked him down, playing the straight man in front of a cast of crackpots, making stars of his team: the sardonic Chappers (now known as Match of the Day 2 host Mark Chapman), and the assistant producer Laura, who became the center of a nationwide X-Factor-style search to find a partner.

In 2012 Mills met an enthusiastic fan of the show called Chris Stark who was a DJ at Southampton student radio. Stark couldn’t be more different from Mills – a scoundrel who loved British garage nights, most of whose family was in the army. But Mills recognized he was a flavor the station lacked and fought with bosses to get him on the show. The show slowly evolved from a zoo to a presentation duo, with Stark becoming the perfect foil.

The show they created together is an endless well of creativity in an entertainment genre notorious for its lack of imagination (how many shows on the air are basically just a pop quiz, guess the year or asks?) . They created a “devious flirtation” phone number that listeners could give to anyone making leering advances over the weekend – with the resulting voicemails playing on Mondays. Mills staged a musical of his life at the Edinburgh Festival. A personal favorite was Relationship Transfer Deadline Day, based on the idea that it’s too cruel to dump someone close to Christmas; they turned December 10 into a day to dump an unwanted partner, complete with a complete parody of Sky Sports News’ coverage of football’s transfer deadline, with celebrity correspondents following last-minute dumps.

Their biggest hit, “Insinuation Bingo” – where celebrities fill their mouths with water, have crude BBC radio clips played and have to try not to laugh – became a global hit on YouTube. Movie star guests such as Will Ferrell, Hugh Jackman and Daniel Radcliffe all performed.

Mills came out as gay in 2001 in an interview with the Guardian, reflecting the nervousness surrounding the announcement at that time. We wrote that it was “better to handle it than be forced into tabloid hunting” and Mills suggested that “the climate has changed, even in the last five years”, so he felt that listeners wouldn’t be too fazed, but promised not to be too vocal about his sexuality by wearing “pink shirts”.

Mills was not the station’s first openly gay DJ, the late Kevin Greening was a pioneer in that regard. But Greening’s station itinerary hosted segments on Gay Pride events while Mills was quietly groundbreaking for being open about his sexuality, but not being defined as a gay DJ. Or, as he put it, “accepted as a normal guy who’s gay and on the radio.” It wasn’t always easy: Chris Moyles used to impersonate Mills with a high, girlish voice, though he stopped when Mills asked. But years later, when Mills was joined by Nick Grimshaw and Adele Roberts – so that half of the daytime programming on Radio 1 was LGBT+ – it had become the norm and was never noticed.

Being a radio DJ is fairly easy to do adequately and extremely difficult to do brilliantly. Mills on his own isn’t terribly funny or intoxicatingly charismatic, but what he’s built is greater than the sum of his parts. Unusually for a DJ, he is a great listener – immediately picking up on what his team or listeners are saying with a quick remark or pointed question. This week, the show has been inundated with tearful messages about how important the show is to people who have gone to school and college, got married, lost their parents and gone through tough times. while listening to the show. I have to put myself in this camp – in times when I felt lonely and disconnected, especially during the pandemic, it was a place where I felt like home. We will miss it.

About Hannah Schaeffer

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