Top 40

This is the third and final part of our look over the history of the chart shows on BBC radio. This page looks at 2002 to the present day; we also have pages looking at 1955-1987 and 1987-2002.

With the show's next permanent host not starting on the show until February 2003, it was announced that during the intervening period, there would be a series of guest presenters. Jo Whiley was the first; she was followed in subsequent weeks by Chris Moyles and Emma B.

It was no secret from his afternoon show that Mark Radcliffe, the next guest presenter, was no fan of the music in the charts. The show he presented ended with the boyband Blue getting a new entry at number 1, which meant he had to have an on-air phone conversation with one of the members of a group that he had previously been critical of.

The year was rounded off by Sara Cox and Nemone. Unfortunately, John Peel and Tim Westwood, who had been pencilled in to present the show in early 2003, never got their chance, with Scott Mills instead covering all the remaining shows until the new permanent host arrived.

So who would that permanent host be? The obvious choice would be Scott - he had already covered the show many times for Mark Goodier in recent years. Instead, however, the show went to a new voice - that of 23 year-old Wes Butters, who had been discovered following a nationwide search for a new presenter. Wes, who used only his first name on air, began presenting on 9th February 2003. The revamped show gave increased prominence to the album charts, and would no longer play all 40 hits in the singles chart.

Sunday 16th January 2005 marked a major landmark in the singles chart - the unveiling of the 1000th number one. Following the countdown of that week's Top 40, the show then played brief clips of each of hundredth number ones.

Two weeks later, his contract having not been renewed, Wes presented his last show on Radio 1. Following another short spell of guest presenters, on 6th March 2005 JK and Joel (real names Jason Griffith and Joel Hogg) launched a new-look show, which on the face of it seemed to spell the end of the traditional chart rundown.

Due to falling singles sales, and a perceived decline in interest in the charts, a more entertainment-based show was promised. The retitled Radio 1's Chart Show would incorporate the Top 40 singles, Top 20 album and Top 10 download charts, but also feature new releases, competitions, guests and celebrity chat. There was also a feature titled 'The Retro', looking at charts from the past.

The changes did not go down well with chart fans, and after a while the singles chart countdown, which initially didn't even get going until an hour-and-a-quarter into the show, eventually it once again extended to encompass the majority of the show.

Early on during JK and Joel's time on the show, in April 2005, download sales were incorporated into the singles chart for the first time, as long as there was an accompanying physical release. This changed in January 2007 when all legal downloads became eligible.

From August 2006, following the demise of Top of the Pops, Radio 1's Chart Show became the only broadcast outlet for the official singles chart. Radio 2 ended its Album Chart Show on 2nd April 2007. There has not been a dedicated show covering the album charts since.

When they were given the show in 2005, JK and Joel were being tipped as the radio's next big thing. However it was not to be, and they departed the station in 2007. Just like Mark Goodier, the pair bowed out with a special edition of the chart show. Broadcast on 30th September 2007, the 40th anniversary of the start of Radio 1, the show included pre-recorded inserts from Bruno Brookes and Mark Goodier looking at significant chart moments from years gone by. It also included a special chart rundown, revealing the most-played songs in Radio 1's history. The number 1 was Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

Following JK and Joel's departure, Scott Mills covered for a week, and then another duo, Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates, took over the show on 14th October 2007. Apparently it was now necessary for two people to present a chart show. New releases were played under the name 'Chartbreakers'. The Retro feature remained initially, but was soon axed. Some songs from the Top 40 were still skipped, only being mentioned in the recaps every ten songs. There was no longer a rundown of the complete Top 40 at the end of the show.

Fearne Cotton departed the show after nearly two years, leaving Reggie to present solo from 27th September 2009.

There was an extra treat for chart fans from Wednesday 10th March 2010, as Radio 1 began a broadcast of the midweek charts in the form of The Official Chart Update. This was a 30 minute segment introduced by whoever was presenting the station's afternoon show that day - originally Greg James, then Scott Mills from April 2012.

From 26th February 2012, the Sunday Top 40 radio show became a visual show. The Top 10 part of the show was now streamed online with music videos, with Reggie appearing in vision between them.

Another presenter took over the show from 13th January 2013 - Jameela Jamil, who had previously presented Radio 1's Request Show, became the first permanent solo female presenter of the chart show. She would also join Scott Mills to co-present The Official Chart Update.

There was controversy early on in Jameela's time on the chart show. The incorporation of downloads had opened the floodgates for pretty much anything to appear in the charts, as long as enough people had downloaded it. An internet campaign at Christmas 2009 had seen Rage Against the Machine triumph over whoever that year's X Factor winner was, to claim the number one spot. In April 2013, the death of former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher had led to an internet campaign to get a certain song from The Wizard of Oz to the top spot.

In the end, it didn't make it to number one, but it did enter the chart at number two, leaving Radio 1 stuck between a rock and a hard place. Surely it would be disrespectful for the national broadcaster to play a song mocking the recently deceased PM? The solution was for Jameela to handover to a reporter from Radio 1's Newsbeat to explain the context behind the song, why it was in the charts, and why Radio 1 weren't playing it on the chart. The item included only very brief clips of the song in question.

The way the charts were compiled were changed again in July 2014, as streaming data would now be incorporated into the singles charts alongside downloads and the small number of sales of physical product. Although it was argued this was necessary in order to reflect the changing ways people were consuming their music, some chart fans criticised the move which had the effect of drastically slowing down chart movement, with the same old songs getting stuck in the charts for weeks on end. Indeed, in 2016 a fairly unremarkable track by the rapper Drake came close to breaking Bryan Adams's record of 16 weeks at number 1 - and this was all thanks to streaming.

The video streaming of the Top 10 on the Radio 1 website ceased in August 2014, and Jameela Jamil left the station on 18th January 2015. Clara Amfo took over the chart show the following week, though her tenure was to be a brief one. In March 2015, it was announced that the music industry had decided on a new global release day of Fridays for album and single releases. Up to now, most releases in the UK had been on Mondays. As a result, the Official Charts Company decided to change the day it compiled the charts to Friday, in order to take in a full week of sales for new singles (Friday-Thursday). Radio 1, therefore, had little choice but to follow suit.

And so after 53 years, the tradition of the Sunday afternoon chart show on the BBC came to an end. On 10th July 2015, the show moved into Greg James's Friday Drivetime slot, running from 4pm, with Newsbeat following at 5.45. Radio 1 replaced the Top 40 on Sundays with a new 'Number 1 Show' with Cel Spellman, where every song was a number 1. The Official Chart Update moved from Wednesdays to a shorter slot on Greg James's Drivetime show on Mondays at 5.30.

Commercial radio, meanwhile, opted to leave their chart where it was. The Big Top 40, as it had now become, is based on download sales and streaming information from iTunes, combined, as ever, with airplay data.

With the drastic reduction in running time of Radio 1's chart show on Fridays from three hours to just one-and-three-quarter hours, clearly there was no longer time to play all forty tracks. The first solution was to play only the Top 25 in full, with only brief extracts of numbers 40-26 being played at the start of the show. This seemed a far from perfect solution - why play a long-runner that everyone's fed up with hearing at number 25, over a new entry at number 26?

The Top 10 recap, with short clips of each song, was played between numbers 3 and 2, with the reveal of the song at number 2 effectively giving the game away as to the identity of the number 1. The show ended with a play of a song that was expected to hit the charts the following week.

The format was altered from 17th February 2017. The first hour of the show now played a selection of tracks between 40 and 11 (but not necessarily new entries and climbers as you might expect), with other songs being mentioned but not played. The format after 5pm remained unchanged, with the Top 10 played in full, and the Top 5 albums also being mentioned.

However the BBC chose to format the way they broadcast the chart, there was little they could to do about the format of the chart itself - that was in the hands of the Official Charts Company. With downloads dwindling, and streaming data taking over the charts, not only would songs hang around in the charts long after their sell-by dates, but the release of any major new album would see tracks from that album dominating the so-called singles chart. This issue came to a head in March 2017, when the release of Ed Sheeran's album 'Divide' saw all of its 16 tracks charting inside the singles Top 20.

Following much criticism of this, later in the year the Official Charts Company announced changes to the charts, limiting each artist to no more than three tracks inside the Top 100, and introducing a method to gently ease long-running songs out of the charts, known as 'Accelerated Chart Ratio'. On the plus side, this did allow for a little more chart movement, but on the minus side, it gives the impression of what they are compiling is no longer the definitive 'chart', but rather 'a chart according to some arbitary rules we have laid down'.

Greg had some special co-presenters on 21st April 2017, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on hand to help out with the Top 10 rundown.

Radio 1 made some schedule changes in June 2018, declaring Friday to be part of the weekend! As part of those changes, Greg James stepped down from the Top 40 after nearly three years - he would move to the station's breakfast show shortly afterwards.

His replacement led to some raised eyebrows. Scott Mills had already been with Radio 1 for almost twenty years, making him one of the station's longest serving DJs of all-time. Over that time he had filled in for multiple presenters on the Top 40, right back to when Mark Goodier was presenting the show. There had been numerous occasions when he had seemed like the obvious choice to take over, only to be passed over in favour of someone else. It took until June 2018 before he was finally given the show on a permanent basis.

Scott's appointment saw a few minor changes in format. The Top 20 rather than the Top 10 is now recapped before the number 2, which, just like in the old days, is now read out over a music bed rather than playing clips of the songs. The show now once again concludes with the number 1, rather than following it with a future hit as had been done during Greg James's tenure. However, despite initial reports that the show would be extended to finish at 7pm, the 5.45 end time has been maintained, with Dance Anthems following after Newsbeat as before.

Previous page: 1987-2002


The Official Chart official site
Pick of the Pops official site
Pick of the Pops at BBC Genome
Solid Gold Sixty at BBC Genome
Top 20 at BBC Genome
Top 40 at BBC Genome
The Official Chart Show at BBC Genome
Radio 1's Chart Show at BBC Genome
Radio Rewind
Pick of the Pops Wikipedia entry
The Official Chart Wikipedia entry

Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © British Broadcasting Corporation