Published: 06:00, 02 February 2021
| Updated: 08:05, 02 February 2021
In 2008, the BBC's Radio 1 Big Weekend rolled into the county for a two-day music extravaganza.
Around 34,000 people were lucky enough to get their hands on the free tickets - some 518,000 applied - lured by a frankly stellar line-up which included headliner Madonna and even featured an up-and-coming Adele trotting out the tunes at Maidstone's Mote Park.
It was a slick production - huge marquees hosting the two main stages and an outdoor DJ set. There was a sprawling back-stage area and Madge turned up for her Saturday night slot via helicopter.
Yet for those lucky enough to witness the event first-hand, it was worth remembering how this was the evolution of an annual event staged by the radio station which had become as synonymous with the British summertime as heavy rain and a Punch and Judy show.
The Radio 1 roadshow was a remarkable beast and one which toured the nation during July and August from 1973 to 1999.
But it proved no less popular than the behemoth which would eventually replace it.
In fact, at one held in Birmingham in 1992 a crowd of 100,000 turned out.
And Kent was a regular stop-off, hosting more than 30 shows from the roadshow's very first year through to 1996.
Classic seaside town Margate saw the lion's share of the action, rarely being left off the calendar, with thousands of music fans flocking to see the action which also made calls to the likes of Ramsgate, Folkestone, Deal and Maidstone.
Of course, the radio station hosted plenty of shows around the county over the years - notably holding court at Tenterden Leisure Centre in 1991 for a show which also featured a live performance from the singer Seal - not to mention in a rather gloomy February week in 1987 where the perma-tanned Gary Davies (or should that be 'Ooh Gary Davies' for those old enough to remember the jingle) held court first at Maidstone Market and the following day in Canterbury city centre. And let's not forget Nick Grimshaw's 2013 visit to Maidstone, among others.
But it was the summer jaunts which pulled in thousands.
Tony Miles - better known to listeners during his 22 years running the roadshows as Smiley Miley - reflects fondly on a national institution he was involved with from its very first show in Newquay in 1973.
He went from creating and driving the first roadshow truck and selling Radio 1 merchandise (he and his brother held the exclusive rights to all those mugs and t-shirts that were so in demand back in the day from the start of the roadshow up until 1995) to being an on-stage regularly, often grabbing the headlines with his various stunts at the expense of the DJs.
"The crowds were phenomenal," the 74-year-old tells KentOnline. "Whatever the weather, thousands would turn up. We'd perform on Margate beach and there were people for as far as you could see.
"From February every year we'd have phone calls asking where the roadshow would be in certain weeks. People wanted to plan their holidays around it so they could come.
"People would travel North to South just to see the DJs they wanted or follow us and stay in caravans. That was the magic of the roadshow.
"All they'd come to see was a guy putting records on and him and me mucking around on stage while holding up placards asking us to say hello to their mum during the show.
"It's unbelievable those huge crowds would come to watch a stage playing music."
For today's youngsters, Radio 1 was a different animal during the 1970s and 80s. In an era before the proliferation of digital channels catering for every form of music, Radio 1 was the only show in town with a pop playlist which spanned the generations and presented it with a broad audience. And its DJs were household names.
Not only would their shows command big audiences, but as the regular hosts of Top of the Pops - back in the days when the singles chart was still relevant and millions would tune in each week for the rare outlet for music on the TV - they were major celebrities.
And Kent saw its fair share of big names over the years. During the 1970s the likes of radio legends Alan 'Fluff' Freeman and 'Diddy' David Hamilton appeared as well as Dave Lee Travis (the Hairy Cornflake while we're recounting nicknames) and Ed Stewart, the man who also presented BBC children's TV show Crackerjack (insert obligatory 'Crackerjack' shout here).
During the 1980s, Peter Powell, Mike Smith, Tony Blackburn, Steve Wright, Bruno Brookes and even a young Phillip Schofield took turns behind the microphone to whip the crowds into an excitable frenzy.
The 1990s, meanwhile, saw Mike Read (the man perhaps most famous for banning Frankie Goes To Hollywood's classic hit Relax, a move which immediately saw it fly to the top of the charts), Mark Goodier, Jackie Brambles and, comfortably sitting in the 'not household name' category,Clive Warren and Mark Tonderai.
Explains Tony 'Smiley Miley' Miles: "The DJs were big back in the 70s and 80s. They would be on the road and if they were presenting Top of the Pops while we were touring, they'd have to have a car waiting for them as soon as the live broadcast finished to get them back to the studios and then be back in time for the following day. They were household names."
And it was a lucrative time for them too.
"They'd be away on the roadshow, but their management and agents would see the opportunities and book them into some clubs along the route," he adds.
"So they were doing a roadshow with a captive audience and then doing appearances at clubs. They were making big money."
The vast majority, remembers Tony, enjoyed the experience - although not so much, apparently, the bespectacled Simon Bates; the man responsible for Our Tune, his daily tear-jerking story of unmitigated tragedy which could sit a tad uncomfortably between the likes of Agadoo by Black Lace and Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. He was, Tony says, more of a "proper broadcaster" than many of his contemporaries. Which probably translates into not buying into the larking about spirit of the shows.
The genesis of the idea came after Radio 1 executive Johnny Beerling went on a camping holiday to Nice in the South of France and saw a trailer opening up to present entertainment. Thinking it would work as a great promotional device to get the radio station a decent bit of publicity, he got the ball rolling on his return.
Not that his fellow execs shared his view - expecting it be a short-lived flop.
But from its humble beginnings - where DJs performed in what looked like a glorified doughnut van - it grew to see the shows roll into town in a £250,000 articulated lorry complete with satellite truck.
Not that there weren’t plenty of hiccups along the way - with Tony remembering on one occasion in the 1970s when, while driving the truck onto Margate beach it slipped off one of the tracks laid down to prevent it getting stuck in the sand and required digging out.
When it first started in 1973, the team accompanying the roadshow was about six strong. By the time it was parked up for the final time, more than 30 would form the entourage.
Arriving the night before in the town they were due to broadcast from, the crew were a close-knit team.
Adds Tony: "We'd go to the beach to play rounders or go on the dodgems.
"I often used to host a barbeque on the beach three times a week for the crew rather than all just sit in a hotel.
"I was always keen to keep the roadshow 'family' together and we kept that all the way through. The DJs would join us. We'd eat together, drink together, work together and play together."
And it would prove a big boost to the local economy as it pulled in the punters.
"If it was still going today," the man previously known as Smiley Miley reflects, "councils would be throwing money at you to come to their town".
After being hosted between 5-7pm in its earliest incarnation - a time slot which proved potentially troublesome as the crowd would often have spent the day on the beach drinking - in 1976 it switched to the time-slot in which most will remember it.
Warm-up entertainment for the broadcast would start at 10am and the show went live at 11am for 90 minutes of music and hijinks. After the show, the DJ would attend one of the goodie vans flogging that branded merchandise and sign autographs before the charabanc moved on to the next resort.
While in the early days it was just the DJ entertaining the audience, by the 1990s there was an increasing number of emerging artists keen to capitalise on the big crowds and even bigger radio audience.
The Manic Street Preachers (complete with guitarist Richey Edwards before his disappearance and presumed death two years later - see clip below) performed live during a 1993 July roadshow on Margate's Main Sands, hosted by Jackie Brambles, as they attempted to leap from indie rockers to mainstream success story; while Grange Hill and EastEnders star Sean Maguire (you'll recognise him if you look him up) appeared in the same town in 1995 in a bid to spark his brief pop career. The fact it was brief tells you everything you need to know.
Elsewhere in the country, acts such as the Spice Girls and Take That appeared before going huge, while East 17 agreed to perform as a warm-up act for a full week on the promise they got to perform on the live show on the Friday.
If you didn't get a big name, you did get to enjoy the pleasures of two games which proved as engaging for those listening at home to those playing for prizes on the stage itself.
The first was Bits and Pieces where you had to guess the songs from a string of snippets. The second was named after Tony himself - Smiley Miley's Mileage Game - and was a case of guessing how many miles he'd driven since leaving the last destination. They were simpler times.
But by the early 1990s, a new broom was sweeping through the corridors of power in the form of Radio 1's new controller, Matthew Bannister.
Determined to rid the station of its Smashie and Nicey image, he set about dumping some of the station's best-known names (it was so long to DLT, Bruno Brookes, Gary Davies and Alan Freeman among many others) and also in his sights was the roadshow.
Explains Tony: "In 1995 there was a change at Radio 1. Matthew Bannister had taken over at the station and he thought the roadshow was a bucket-and-spade routine at the end of the pier. He didn't like it.
"It was different when the likes of Chris Moyles and Chris Evans came on board and Radio 1 changed.
"I didn't renew our contract in 1995. I don't think we would have fitted in anymore with what they wanted to do."
The catch-all generations playlist was dumped, the personalities of the DJs reined in and when the roadshow parked up after the 1999 summer season it was all over for the annual knees-up.
'People thought it would never work when it was first proposed - they were proved wrong...'
Instead, the radio station opted for a number of big, star-studded single events called One Big Sunday which, in turn, morphed into the annual Big Weekend - more festival than roadshow.
As for that parked up truck? Tony Miles bought it a couple of years ago and has spent his spare time attempting to restore it to its former glory. He hopes to tie-up with some of those former big Radio 1 names to take it back on the road again in the summer of 2022 - Covid permitting.
Whether it proves a success remains to be seen. Tony was 26 when he started working on the roadshow and as the 50th anniversary of its first jaunt fast approaches, none of us who remember the excitement of the shows coming to town are any younger.
What is, without doubt, is that the Radio 1 roadshow was a phenomenal hit during its long run.
"People thought it would never work when it was first proposed," says Tony today. "But they were proved wrong.
"The phrase 'roadshow' didn't exist until Radio 1 started using it. Now it's everywhere. I still believe the roadshow was the biggest radio outside broadcast success story anywhere in the world."
Not ‘arf, as Fluff would say.