It's difficult to recall the last time the death of a DJ had quite the impact as Steve Wright’s. Maybe Terry Wogan’s in 2016, but Wogan was a familiar face on telly as well as the nation’s favourite DJ. Wright appeared on TV from time to time over the years, but it was never where he was at home. He was a radio man through and through. 

That helps explain the reaction perhaps. Radio is often overlooked or written off as a secondary medium (although listening figures show it reaches some 88 per cent of the population), but radio listeners are loyal and they like familiarity. This is radio’s “secret tribe” as critic Gillian Reynolds suggested in The Guardian after Wright’s death.

And given that he was on the BBC from 1980, Wright’s voice was very familiar. One we have been hearing for the best part of 45 years. There are relations you probably hear less from. On Sunday night on Radio 2 in the last ever programme broadcast from Wogan House, Paul Gambaccini suggested that: “More human beings have heard the voice of Steve Wright than almost any other broadcaster in world history.” 

Listening to Radio 2 last weekend there was still a palpable sense of shock about Wright’s unexpected death amongst his colleagues. Gary Davies was the first to have to step into Wright’s shoes on Pick of the Pops on Saturday afternoon. You could hear the waver in his voice as he paid tribute. 

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“We’ve been celebrating his life on Radio 2 all week, but it’s today when we really feel the loss,” Davies admitted, “as we come to the point in the Radio 2 schedule where Steve should be kicking off the show for millions of people up and down the country.”

The next morning Liza Tarbuck was on duty. “This is Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs without the chief,” she began. “Without our genius friend. So while you’re getting a tissue I think it will be lovely if you lit him a candle. I make no apologies if I get upset throughout the next two hours and I don’t think you should either.” She then read out tribute after tribute from listeners.

The Herald: Steve Wright

Wright was certainly a radio pioneer, introducing the Zoo format to UK radio from the United States. But the reaction to his death, I suspect, says more about the role radio plays in our everyday lives; how radio voices can feel not just familiar but familial. There will be people listening who don’t hear anyone else other than the voices on the radio some days.

That might explain why radio audiences get so worked up when their favourite DJs get moved from their usual spot, as happened when Wright was moved on from his afternoon slot on Radio 2 in September 2022. There’s a conservatism about radio audiences at times which is really a reflection of how radio plays its part in the daily pattern of our existence and how unsettling it can be when things change.

In Wright’s heyday you had to make a name for yourself on radio before you made the move to TV. These days it’s often the other way around. That can work (Rylan on Radio 2 is the prime example), but it is not a certainty. It does rather suggest that radio and TV presenting are interchangeable. I’m not sure they are. The best radio presenters love the form for what it can do that no other medium can.

And “Wrighty” clearly loved radio. Even those of us who weren’t huge fans could see that. He devoted his life to radio. In the circumstances it’s no wonder radio felt the need to mark that.

Grief was at the heart of Sunday night’s Between the Ears slot on Radio 3. Staggering in the Dark - made by the production company Falling Tree which is, like Wright, also clearly in love with radio; its possibilities and potential - was based around an annual gathering in a pub in Brighton where regulars come together to remember and celebrate those they have lost. It was a rowdy, raucous programme reflecting a rowdy, raucous night. But it had pain and love and silence at its core.

“I still text Mark,” one of the contributors said of the friend she had lost. “Maybe that is prayer in the digital age.” 

Listen Out For: Stuart Mitchell’s Cost of Living, Radio 4, Friday March 1, 7.15pm

Glaswegian comedian Stuart Mitchell is given his own bite-sized radio series. Appropriately enough, this first episode sees him visit a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.