Legendary radio and TV broadcaster David “Kid” Jensen has been hiding a secret for five years – he has Parkinson’s Disease.
But his health issues have not affected his on-air skills at all, and he is as busy and in demand as ever.
David is about to kick off his own three hour show on the brand new digital station, United DJs.
Broadcasting legend David Jensen is the latest “veteran DJ” to be added to the star-studded roster of brand new radio station United DJs, set up by former Radio Luxembourg star Tony Prince.
Mike Read, Dave Lee Travis (making his comeback to the airwaves) Andy Peebles and a host of other former Radio 1, Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg “jocks” being given their own shows, and the rare freedom to choose their own music and not adhere to a playlist like most modern day radio stations.
“Jensen’s Dimensions” will air for the first time on Monday 7th May at 9pm for three hours, and then every Monday night at the same time, 9pm to midnight. An hour of the show will be dedicated to the blues genre.
Eventually, guests will be invited in to be interviewed and for live sessions. The music played will be a mix of the old and the new, and David will be picking up where he left off back in the day, by giving new bands and artists their first airplay on radio.
Many major names in pop and rock music owe David Jensen a debt of gratitude for championing them before anyone else had heard them, and even in some cases, before they even had a record deal.
Many still call 67-year-old David, “Kid” – a nickname he was given by DJ Paul Burnett back in 1968, when David joined Radio Luxembourg at the age of 18-years-old. The Canadian-born personality was born into a Danish family and began his career when he was 16, playing jazz and classical music. He moved to Luxembourg to be part of the resident DJ team alongside Noel Edmonds, Paul Burnett, United DJs founder Tony “The Royal Ruler” Prince and others.
After six years making a big name for himself on Radio Luxembourg, Kid Jensen was also becoming a TV star in the UK, hosting pop music shows for ITV. He moved to the UK permanently and landed his own show on Radio Trent in Nottingham, until he joined BBC Radio 1 in 1976. He became an even bigger personality with his stints presenting BBC TV’s Top of the Pops. His partnership with the late John Peel is legendary.
Jensen has always been a champion of new artists and new music, with a knack of spotting future stars. Among the many acts who got their big break on national radio or television via Kid Jensen are Gary Numan, The Police, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Thin Lizzy and The Smiths. David Bowie was a regular interviewee, and the likes of The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were fans of David Jensen’s broadcasting skills.
The US was calling in 1980, when he quit BBC Radio 1 to head out to Georgia to work on national TV in news broadcasting for Ted Turner’s station and for CNN, but he was back on Radio 1 a year or so later, by now having dropped his “Kid” nickname.
After leaving Radio 1 in 1984, David Jensen has always been in demand by radio stations and on television – he hosted pop show The Roxy for ITV – as well as writing columns in national newspapers. He has hosted his own shows on Capital FM, Capital Gold, Heart, Planet Rock, Smooth Radio and other stations.
In his personal life, David is married to Iceland-born Guðrún. He loves his football and supports Crystal Palace FC, where he is Chairman of Crystal Palace F.C. Vice-President’s Club. In 2010 he became a Freeman of the City of London and was inducted into the UK Radio Hall of Fame.
Five year secret…
But he has been keeping a secret from everyone for the last five years, other than a select few close friends and his family. His battle with Parkinson’s Disease. After the shocking diagnosis in 2013, David decided not to make it public as he feared it would affect his work.
But having read about others in the public eye who have announced their diagnosis, and the desire to help the national charity Parkinsons’s UK create an awareness and funds for research and hopefully a cure, David is now ready to tell his story and reveal his own fight. Around 145,000 people in the UK suffer from the disease. It affects one person in every 350.
David first realised there was a problem in 2012, when he began dragging his feet while walking. But otherwise feeling OK, he ignored the issue and the pleas by family and friends to go see a doctor, for six months. By then other typical symptoms of Parkinson’s had affected him, such as spilling wine when pouring it.
When a doctor eventually told him what the diagnosis of his symptoms was, David was stunned. “It was a kind of a mixture of things really. I was angry; why me kind of thing and then why not me. I was scared.
“There’s no cure for Parkinson’s yet. Scared of the unknown, fearing the worst things that could happen. Once I got through that, I started having better days. Not every day is a great day, that’s for sure. Because of the tremors and because of the mobility issues”.
But he kept the news to himself other than close family and a few close friends, who he trusted. But after five years of keeping his secret, when the Surrey-based celebrity saw others in the public eye talking openly about having the disease and how they coped, such as Sky sports presenter Dave Clark, it gave him the confidence to make the announcement.
Then came a huge sense of relief, and gratitude for the support and love he has been shown, including a staggering 56,000 messages of support in his ‘Inbox’, within days of revealing his illness.
No longer feeling isolated, “lonely” or suffering in silence, David says he now feels part of a community and was genuinely touched by the outpouring of warmth and affection by friends, family, fellow radio DJs and the public.
“That is something I have been grateful for. In this industry, I didn’t have to ‘phone anybody up, the broadcasters I know who I have worked with, have called me up to assure me that I’d still be working. Telling me not to worry that people will not be using you anymore because you’ve got Parkinson’s Disease. So far that’s been the way it is, so I’ve been really, really lucky.
“Credit to those people who kept it a secret and didn’t try to userp me, and let me do it in the way I wanted to and how it happened. To tell people in a kind of matter of fact way, that I’ve got this and I’ll be fighting it, and if you know somebody who is suffering, then let me know.
You are not alone…
“The great thing about Parkinson’s is, you are not alone. There are people there to help you, and be with you and give you advice. There’s a help line on The Parkinson’s UK website, which can help people. Michael J. Fox has got a great website that he runs out of New York City.
“It’s great reading about advances in medication, and we are tantalisingly close to finding a cure, or at least manage the symptoms better than they are managed. That’s what gets me up in the morning”. David is a celebrity supporter for Parkinson’s UK and is keen to help spread the word about the disease and the charity’s work, and help raise funds.
Before his announcement, David’s strict medication regime caused him to sneak off during radio shows every four hours. And he says that some people mistake lack of co-ordination for having supped one too many.
He explains how it has changed his life. “Things I would take for granted, like swimming; I love swimming, but it’s fairly common place you lose your co-ordination, so I don’t think I’ll ever make the Olympics representing Canada in the swimming events.
“There’s lots of guys and girls who have got it and have gone out on the road and done marathons, just to prove to the world we are not running away from the disease. We are here to confront it and fight it, in any way we can. That keeps me awake and alert; anxious to find out as soon as possible, when there might be something that might act as a cure for Parkinson’s.
“Right now, a lot of the research is about how you get it, which they need to find out how you get it before they can find out how you get rid of it. Billy Connolly has done a couple of TV shows, and he sees the funny side of these things.
“He once said, ‘I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease and I wish he’d come and take it back off me’. That sums up his attitude, and having a sense of humour in life is important anyway. I think you live longer and more satisfyingly if you can live life with a smile”.
David says having the disease hasn’t changed his outlook on life at all. “Do you know honestly, I can say it hasn’t changed my life’s outlook. Initially for the first couple of years, every waking thought it’ll be something you can turn to your advantage or your disadvantage, depending on your attitude.
“But Parkinson’s is like that; go along for a while and you think this is fine, I can handle this; is this the worst you can throw at me. Then the next day, you hit a wall and you think no, there’s more to come. That’s just the nature of the beast and hopefully, as I said, there’ll be some sort of a cure or at least something to help you.
“Getting the medication right and making sure I don’t miss my medication every four hours during the day, certainly helps me, so I am not complaining really. One of the side-effects is it destroys your balance and makes you look like you are inebriated, and people would mistake someone with Parkinson’s with someone who has been drinking too much.
“It is one of those diseases that affects the whole family. You find yourself reliant on other people for all kinds of things, like helping with you with your coat, buttons, cuff links or something like that. If your wife or girlfriend or boyfriend or best friend are there to help you, you are grateful for that”.
So, what is David’s personal message to others who are about to be diagnosed or maybe have just been told the news? “Always be mindful of the fact you are not alone and you will find help if you want it, on the Parkinson’s UK website or there are telephone helplines available.
“Try and develop a relationship, emotional or otherwise to help the charity. You don’t have to be well known to help the charity. Some of the most generous are the people who don’t make a big song and dance about it”.
David’s usual up-beat, infectious positive disposition and his sense of humour, have not been dented by his life-changing health issues. And “that voice” is still sounding like it always has done, on the various radio shows he is hosting.
He refuses to let this disease put him down. In fact, as I am writing this article, Mr Jensen is in South Korea visiting his journalist son who is based there. He has another son who works in banking based in Hong Kong, and a daughter who is a mother of three children here in the UK. David and his wife have seven grandchildren.
So the new show on United DJs…”I am pretty excited about it; that in my broadcasting career and at my ripe old age, there’s still an opportunity to be on the air. I love the atmosphere of working in the studio and getting to know everybody.
“I know everybody by reputation if not personally, on the new station. I think it’s going to do well. The DJs for years have been crying about not being able to choose their own music and it goes to the playlist committees, and forever has it been that way.
“But this is going to be quite different, where the presenters have been chosen for their personality, but its fundamentally a music station and it’s one that I am really welcoming”. For David, it is a return to the name “Dimensions” from his show on Radio Luxembourg, and reuniting with Tony Prince who he started his career with at Radio Luxembourg.
“Yeah, The Royal Ruler’s back in town! We all got on well, and used to see each other continually. To alleviate the boredom we used to play practical jokes on some of the other DJs. I seemed to be a victim of these little plots too. I enjoyed myself very much”.
One infamous story from those days when Kid Jensen was “victim” to one of Prince’s pranks, was when a group of record pluggers and Kid were walking through a park in Luxembourg one night. Kid was on edge with the news story in his head of an escaped gorilla from a local zoo, a story Tony Prince had faked earlier that day to set up the gag.
A rustling in the bushes and the sight of a large ‘ape’ leaping out of the undergrowth, and everyone ran for their lives, apart from Tony and others who were in on the joke, that this escaped ape was in fact someone dressed in a gorilla costume. Maybe that old saying, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’ is right, and now is the time for David to get his own back on Tony when they are back in the same studio together! Watch this space…
So is this a refreshing new idea to bring together some of the most well known and best DJs from back in the day on to one station, and give them the freedom to play what they want to play, or will it be seen as harking back to the “Smashey and Nicey” era? David laughs loudly at that cheeky question.
“Well, some may think that. You’re not going to get universal ticks when you embark on something new. I think it’s going to be great fun. I don’t think it’s a team of people wallowing in nostalgia. I think it is a group of people who still feel they have something to offer, and they want to go on and have the sort of fun they had on pirate radio. The kind of attitude the Pirates and on Luxembourg, and the things we were doing then that were new for this country.
“You come across this on radio and TV these days, where people are allowed to become ageist, and for a lot of the DJs, we are there to make a point that age is no barrier to providing good solid music shows with an air of excitement about them”. David makes another point, that there’s no two DJs on the new station that sound remotely similar.
“My show is aimed at people like me, who don’t get to hear the giants of 70s rock like Wishbone Ash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell or Van Morrison on the radio today. There’s a hole in the playlist on all these stations today.
“There’s going to be a lot of what we call in the trade, ‘spice tracks’, where people say, ‘I haven’t heard that for ages’, and for no good reason. People are so conscious of what they play on the radio today, because they are so afraid of people tuning out”.
David admits he tends to listen mainly to speech radio today, because there’s not a station that plays the sort of music he wants to hear. “I’m a music fan just like I want the listeners to be. I am always asking, ‘why is that not being played on the radio?’
“We are hoping to grab a slice of that Radio 2 audience. The trick is to play music that is as relevant today as it was yesterday”. He adds: “A good presenter can make an ordinary song sound great and a bad presenter can make a great song sound weak.
“There’s lots to learn still, and I learn as much from the newer DJs; Chris Evans I think is a great communicator. Talking to the audience, not at the audience. John Peel’s favourite broadcaster was always Humphrey Littleton; he loved the programme he hosted on Radio 4, “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue”.
David’s vote for “Best DJ” goes to………… “For personality, and for genuine enthusiasm and huge amounts of laughter, John Peel. Paul Gambaccini, in terms of documentary programmes and interviews; he’s probably the best interviewer in the country.
“Paul Burnett, who gave me the nickname ‘The Kid’, I hope there’s a home for him on the new station, because he would fit in dead centre with his sense of humour. One of those guys who’s never had the accolades they deserve”.
Frankie says, you gave us a career…
We talk about David having a reputation for picking out bands and artists way before they made it, helping them up the ladder. “One of the things I used to do on Radio 1 was playing new music from bands who would send in tapes.
“If I liked them and played them, often I’d get a ‘phone call from someone like Muff Winwod, who was an Executive at CBS records at the time, or from Trevor Horn who heard a session Frankie Goes To Hollywood did for me; the first time they’d been on the radio.
“If I was honest, I could also sit here and name as many bands who didn’t go anywhere despite my championing,” laughs David. “If you have helped a band or artist on their way, you can have a warm glow and without sounding too arrogant about it, think; I’ve still got it”.
Many major acts have deep respect for David Jensen and his passion for music, and the support he gave them in their careers. In 1972, David travelled with the Rolling Stones on shows across the USA when they were promoting “Exile on Main Street”, on an Access All Areas VIP pass.
David was asked to introduce Led Zeppelin before their famed final show at Earls Court in London. As he went to step on to the stage, the band’s legendary manager Peter Grant stopped David and told him the band wanted to thank him for his support throughout their career, before presenting him with an engraved silver goblet from the band.
While every journalist and DJ in the world begged for time with superstar David Bowie, David Jensen was always given access for an interview, and met the star many times. “He was such a trend-setter and so meaningful in so many ways. He was a giant talent. I interviewed him quite a few times in his career. He was always good value and always came out with something interesting”.
There’s not many stars of the music world that David has not come into contact with over the last four-plus decades, either through his radio or television shows. Ex-Beatle ‘Macca’ is one such global icon who admires Jensen’s on-air skills, but who had some sound advice for him.
“John Peel said he’d want me to talk a little bit about me, and tell some anecdotes. The same advice Paul McCartney gave me years before. He said, I don’t feel I really know the real Kid Jensen when I listen to your show. I didn’t change my style overnight, but I did start to talk a little bit about things I had done, and reflect a little”.
David’s best advice for new DJs coming into the business today “You’ve got to keep it real. An audience can tell when you’re faking. If you’re not having a good day or you don’t enjoy the music you are playing, you shouldn’t be on air. There’s so many people looking for radio jobs now. When I first came over, there was the Pirates, Radio 1 by day and Radio Luxembourg by night and that was it. But somehow, I managed to get a job when there were very few opportunities out there.
“Now there’s a 1,000 jobs on BBC local radio and wherever you are in the country, you are going to have lots of choices. So why should anyone keep listening to you? Make sure you keep it real and enjoy yourself.
It is not exactly work…
“The bottom line is; it is not exactly work, is it? A sign went up in the Capital Radio studio and it said, ‘why should anyone listen to you?’ That was in my brain for every show I did after that”.
The consummate professional does have his share of “outtakes” and recalls one particular blooper which left his studio team in hysterics. “We used to read our own news bulletins and this was a story about trouble in the Middle East. But instead of saying Lebanese troops were gathering, I said Lesbian troops were gathering. I didn’t realise I had said it, until people in the studio started to fall about laughing”. Oops!
Among David’s favourite interviews he has done on radio over the years, is his chat with Carlos Santana on the Copacabana beach in Brazil in 1980.
His favourite song is “ Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison on his brilliant “Astral Weeks” album. Van and Ray Charles (who he interviewed in Luxembourg in 1969) are David’s favourite artists.
Despite his health issues, David is keeping very busy with his day job; presenting “Kid Jensen’s Flashback 40” retro chart show across the Signal radio network of stations, and shows for BBC local radio stations in Sussex, Surrey, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
Then as from early May 2018, his new show on United DJs. “I am still here and for me, it always has been and always will be, all about the music…”
By Simon Redley
- “Jensen’s Dimensions” is an independent production – from GFI Promotions exclusively for United DJs – which sees David working with producer and music publicist Golly Gallagher, a former Luxembourg colleague and close friend of 45 years.
Monday’s 9pm to 12 midnight (On air from 7th May 2018) Listen here: https://www.uniteddj.com/
Parkinson’s UK: https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/