Bob Rogers – the original music and radio influencer

I want to start with a happy memory, literally, of sharing a workplace with legendary radio announcer Bob Rogers, who died on May 29 at age 97.

Bob was seven decades into his radio career by the time we met, and on-air at classic hits station 2CH.

Do you remember, radio enthusiasts, when you discovered that the announcers weren’t able to willy-nilly pick and choose the songs they played?

Bob had discovered the recently released Pharrell Williams’ song Happy and decided that it did indeed make him so. He would play it almost every morning, on this glorious and sadly now lost radio station that generally didn’t feature anything past 1989. I smile and think of Bob anytime I hear it.

Bob Rogers’ influence on what became popular music on radio cannot be understated. He was the first to introduce and feature the Top 40 concept. That had come about because in the 1940s, when he was little more than a teenager himself, he’d got himself a show on Sundays where he was playing American music that had been gifted to him by travelling sailors. Sundays up until that point were for religious messaging, or no music at all.

By the time his Top 40 show on 2UE was established he was creating careers for the likes of Slim Dusty, getting to interview Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Louis Armstrong and, in 1964, packing his bag to tour Europe, Hong Kong and Australia with The Beatles as an honorary fifth member.

You can savour some of those interviews here in the NFSA archives:

By the time I discovered Rogers he was Reminiscing on 2CH, keeping alive the old music, stories and artist’s legacies. He would also invite guests, and even listeners, to create their own music specials, which was my own first interaction with him. He encouraged me to talk about why I liked this song, and gave a background story to others. It led to a lifetime of musical discovery. What I loved about him was that he wasn’t a slave to any one genre, decade, format or theme. If he liked it, you’d hear it, and the story behind it, on his show.

I don’t think an AI DJ, or a Spotify curated playlist can come close to what Bob Rogers offered, well before a word like ‘influencer’ was coined. A great many singers owe their Australian success to Rogers somehow getting access to their music and then playing it on the wireless. I think there’s still a place for music announcers, on both new and oldies stations, to still do the same. Someone, somewhere, is hearing that song for the very first time.

I include the back cover track listing of my Reminiscing CD which I’ve had for 25 years and am pretty sure I won from 2CH. Almost every song is one he introduced me to. I Can’t Get Started, by Bunny Berigan, might have been Bob Rogers’ theme song, but playing and being happy is how I’ll remember him.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo

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