Rock ‘n’ roll on the airwaves for 20 years

134335b'Charles White aka Dr Rock celebrates the 20th anniversary of his rock and roll show on BBC Radio York.'Picture by Neil Silk'25/10/13
134335b'Charles White aka Dr Rock celebrates the 20th anniversary of his rock and roll show on BBC Radio York.'Picture by Neil Silk'25/10/13

Scarborough broadcaster and biographer Charles White – AKA Dr Rock – is celebrating 20 years of his rock music show on Radio York.

His guest list over the years reads like a who’s who of rock ‘n’ roll, with star appearances including Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Van Morrison and the Everly Brothers.

Charles, whose nickname was coined by the national press after he set up Britain’s first course in rock n’ roll at Scarborough Technical College, was no stranger to radio when he got his own show in 1993.

He was first inspired to pursue radio work when in 1968 he appeared on the BBC radio show Any Questions, which was being staged at the Grand Hotel.

He asked the panel “Why do politicians insult the public’s intelligence?” and was told after the show by host David Jacobs that he should be on the radio.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Charles was a regular guest on music shows for BBC Radio London, BBC Radio Tees and BBC Radio Humberside – plus many US stations.

His first solo rock show for Radio York was about the guitarist Ry Cooder and Charles’s guest was Scarborough musician Barry Hampshire.

Charles, 71, said: “To get my own show was great. It’s something I’d always wanted to do and I was elated.

“I’d always researched music, it’s been my passion. So it was a hobby really that has become a job.”

Charles’s day job has always been chiropody, running a practice in Huntriss Row for many years.

But on Sunday nights he immerses himself in a world of music, either focusing on a particular artist, style of music – such as Cajun or Chicago blues – or record label for his hour-long show.

He said: “Some of the best recordings ever made don’t get airplay, so I try and get them airplay.

“I also bring in some funny stories and education about the background of the music, such as the racial background.”

As well as meeting the great and the good of rock music, Charles has also interviewed luminaries of the arts, such as Sir Alan Ayckbourn, artist Sir Peter Blake, who designed the album cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and graphic designer Milton Glaser, who is best known for the
I Love NY logo.

Charles said: “Alan Ayckbourn has been a great inspiration to me. He was on the show when he was just taking off as the world’s leading playwright.”

He added that it’s difficult to come up with a favourite when it comes to musicians, but Charles says Squeeze singer and guitarist Glenn Tilbrook was a fantastic guest.

He says Captain Sensible also made for interesting airtime, as he was “anything but sensible”.

But not all of his guests have hit the right notes.

“We’ve had some turkeys on too of course!” laughs Charles, in his inimitable Irish brogue and with a twinkle in his eye.

He is too polite to name names, but says some of the stars “acted like deities” while some were “as nice as pie”.

One guest who really stands out is Jerry Lee Lewis, who Charles describes as “extraordinary”.

Having written the star’s biography “Killer! The Baddest Rock Memoir Ever”, Charles had him as regular guest on the radio show.

He said: “He’s a real Southern gentleman, the last of the great American wild men.

“I’ve seen him drink a bottle of whiskey in minutes. He has eyes like laser beams.”

Charles smiles as he recounts the tale of the time he took Jerry Lee to see his cousins in Ireland.

The star was staying in Foxrock, a Dublin suburb, after the US authorities hit him with a $3.5m tax bill.

Charles explained that he had decided they would drive to Wicklow in a rented car to pay his family a visit.

But he said: “Having him in a Ford Escort was like having Atilla the Hun in a Dinky car!”

When he knocked on his cousins’ door, telling them he had none other than Jerry Lee Lewis, the Killer himself, outside in the car, they told him in no uncertain terms to get lost.

On returning to the car, Jerry Lee asked him: “Where’s your hillbilly cousins?” Charles told him they were out.

Another tale that ranks high on the music hall of fame is the time Charles found out Michael Jackson had been listening to his radio show.

He explained: “I’d done a Michael Jackson special and found out that he’d been in Leeds and was listening. I found out from Little Richard, who was with him at the time.”

Charles met Michael Jackson on a trip to America, when he was working on Little Richard’s biography and went to meet and interview Quincy Jones, who was with Michael.

He said: “He was a very shy man. I felt he was a very vulnerable creature.”

Charles added: “I came back to Scarborough after the trip, back to seeing to people’s corns, and thought did that really happen?”

But happen it did, and the rock n’ roll tales continue to fill the airwaves every Sunday.