The Power of a Paradoxical Persona: An Analysis of John Peel’s Radio Talk and Career at the BBC
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Communication and Information
Barbara Moore, Naeemah Clark, Michael Keene
John Peel holds a unique place in British broadcasting history. During his almost 40-year career as a DJ on the BBC’s Radio One and Radio Four, he not only introduced innovative music—including psychedelia, reggae, punk, hip hop, grunge and electronica—into the British mainstream, but championed hundreds of musicians whose work might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Using Peel as a case study, this research focuses on the role his persona played in three distinct aspects of his success: (1) his ability to attract audiences across several generations; (2) his longevity at the BBC, a bastion of conservative bureaucracy; and (3) his impact on the programming on BBC’s Radio One and on British popular music in general. Drawing on the theories of persona developed by Horton and Wohl (1956) and Goffman (1971, 1981), the study offers a rhetorical analysis of Peel’s broadcast talk to explicate the role of persona in his success.
By creating a persona based on selection, omission and emphasis of contradictory traits, Peel presented himself as an Everyman able to pull listeners onto his public platform while placing himself simultaneously in their worlds. Far from the artificial and static persona conceptualized by Horton and Wohl (1956), Peel’s on-air persona was paradoxical and flexible—traits that enhanced his credibility and help explain his unprecedented tenure as a DJ on Radio One and appeal as the host and writer for a talk program on Radio Four. The study ends with a discussion of the conditions required and extent to which it is possible for a single individual such as Peel to have a significant impact on social and cultural change.
Winham, Richard P., "The Power of a Paradoxical Persona: An Analysis of John Peel’s Radio Talk and Career at the BBC. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2008.