It was the first show on Heart FM to eclipse Capital's ratings as market leader and a total phenomenon throughout London in the '00s. To this day late-night radio has failed to revisit such heights, and it probably never will.
The concept was simple: a scarcely rotated bouquet of sugary ballads, interspersed with the velvety tones of Nigel Williams, whose sincere, but knowing tone carried the show through its peak. Part of its lasting charm was in the familiarity: you could pretty much bank on hearing the same songs every night. Put it this way, Boyz II Men's kids will never have to go to work thanks to old Nige's royalty cheques.
The repetition of tracks was so relentless that former listeners can only ever hear songs like Eric Clapton's 'Wonderful Tonight' in the context of Late Night Love Songs. Not that I'm complaining.
The show became insanely popular with London's teenagers, who, for some reason, buzzed over a late night radio show aimed at fortysomething housewives. I was around 16 at the time of the show's peak and remember the regular conversations in the school canteen that began with, "Oi, you bust out Late Night Love Songs last night?" To this day its popularity with my demographic remains completely unexplainable.
The growing sensation was helped along in no small part by the brilliant 'Love Letters'. At 11pm Nigel would read short stories sent in by listeners, usually linked tenuously to the lyrics in one of the two dozen songs on the LNLS playlist. Cat ladies up and down the country would write in with their, possibly imagined, stories of love and lust, ranging from brief encounters with continental waiters to full blown affairs with the man from Woolworths, while an audience of teenagers, bored mums and overnight lorry drivers listened in.
Nigel would read them out with the kind of erotic tension only a man who spent his formative years at Radio Guilford can posses, his soothing baritone eventually trailing off into the opening bars of Heatwave's 'Always and Forever'. To the dozens of housewives recoiling into their Horlicks, this was as good as 50 Shades of Grey.
For a brief time the producers trialled 'Love Letters: Uncut', a steamier version which went out at half past midnight, presumably to give people something to listen to on the way home from dogging. Things got borderline '10-minute-freeview' as menopausal imaginations went into gushing overdrive (sorry). Listening to Nigel reading out suburbia's fantasies felt more like eavesdropping on a premium-rate sex line than anything else. Quite a weird scenario for a 16 year old boy.
Regardless of the obvious culture clash, it seems every teenager at some point went through a period of tuning in regularly. It's something we all have in common, and for that reason I'd like to give my sincere thanks to Nigel Williams, and remember the special times we shared while listening to Late Night Love Songs…. (Fade into Gabrielle - Out of Reach)
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