The Show

This site is dedicated to the memory of Rockola, which went out every week for over 25 years and became the longest-running show ever on BFBS Radio.

Rockola grew out of Rockabilly Country, an earlier weekly series David Simmons brought to BFBS in October 1981.

When the fad for rockabilly passed in Britain, Dave Raven, then Head of Music at BFBS London, had the bright idea of expanding David's show to include all rock and roll.

Thus Rockola was born, with its first airing in October 1983. The winning format remained the same until BFBS Radio 2 closed in April 2008:

  • an actual Top Five or Ten from anywhere between 1950 and 1969; new CDs on review;
  • listeners' requests and anniversary tributes;
  • and themed features - like songs with 'mud' or 'muddy' in the title or lyrics, titles that mention alcohol, girls' names, trains, doctors, the devil - even the weather!

The name Rockola was chosen in fond memory of the jukebox of the same name.

As the original American versions of 50s rock and roll songs weren't played on British radio at the time, you could only hear them on Radio Luxemburg, or on jukeboxes like Rockola, Seeburg and Wurlitzer.

David Simmons compiled Rockola himself, but listeners may remember his erstwhile producer, Denys, who worked on the show in the 80s and 90s.


The Music

Rockola played a mixture of Motown; soul....and rock and roll, which began in the mid 50s, growing out of black urban rhythm and blues and white country music.

It exploded when Bill Haley had a hit with "Rock Around The Clock", and Elvis Presley followed with "Heartbreak Hotel".

In fact, Elvis's first label boss, the late Sam Phillips of Sun, is reputed to have said: "Find me a white boy who can sound black and I'll make us both rich."

Over the years, Rockola's scope widened to include later material that fitted the show, like some Creedence Clearwater Revival, Amazing Rhythm Aces, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, or New Orleans funk from The Neville Brothers. "If it sounded right, we'd play it," recalls David.

Dwight Yoakam, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Go Getters, Big Sandy & The Fly Rite Boys, Delbert McClinton, Rod Piazza, Papa Mali, Sonny Landreth, Texas Tornados, Vitello Tonnato and Zachary Richard were just some of the more current artists that featured on Rockola between 2000 and 2008.

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The Man

Rockola was presented and produced by David Simmons. An Essex boy, he grew up in Southend-on-Sea, attended Westcliff High School for Boys, studied law briefly and badly at University College, London, and later graduated from St. John's College, Oxford, with a BA [and MA] in human sciences, specializing in human genetics.

After a period in West Africa as a translator at the Presidency in Yaoundé, Cameroun, he started his radio career with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in Bern, then moved back to London and joined the BBC.

He did the first daily telephone talk shows in the UK; a weekly blues, soul and R&B show on Radio One; and "Soul 77" on BBC Radio London.

For Radio Four, David wrote and presented "Science Now"; reported for current affairs programmes, and made documentaries.

He then worked first as a journalist then as a senior executive with two American television news companies: Worldwide Television News [WTN], owned by ABC News in New York, and Associated Press Television News. His time at WTN included four years as their director for Latin America.

David speaks French, Spanish and fair German. He lives in North London with his wife, several of their many children, two of their grand-children, and Ziggy, the family's large chocolate Labrador. A qualified Blue Badge tour guide and lecturer, he does private and public tours, and writes and produces destination travel features.

You can contact David at



Rockola went out on the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) Radio Two network in Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Southern Spain, Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Belize in Central America, Brunei, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands, both in the South Atlantic.

David's All-Time Rockola Top 15

1 You Can't Catch Me - Chuck Berry
2 Hocus Pocus - Larry Williams
3 She's Not You - Elvis Presley
4 Darlin' Angel Eyes - Nick Lowe
5 High Blood Pressure - Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns
6 Down In The Dumps - Lonnie Mack
7 Walking The Dog - Rufus Thomas
8 Tell The Truth - Ray Charles
9 Milkshake Mademoiselle - Jerry Lee Lewis
10 Hello Mary Lou - Ricky Nelson
11 Cross Country - Mickey Jupp & Legend
12 Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose - Dwight Yoakam
13 A Fool In Love - Ike & Tina Turner
14 Gee Baby - Joe & Ann
15 Here It Is - King Floyd


Some typical shows are available online - click here and listen to the last Rockola broadcast in early April 2008.

Visit the podcast site at



See David's travel notes and recommendations at "Rock & Roll Tours"

Thailand Morocco

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