Boston, UK, that is (gotcha!). Still, before the days of DJ pioneers such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Francis Grasso, DJ Ron Diggins was spinning records across the UK with his custom DJ gear, nicknamed the “Diggola”.
In the wilds of Lincolnshire a recent auction of ’40s and ’50s DJing equipment sheds light on the career of a pioneering post-war disc jockey, one of the very first mobile DJs. Monster wooden consoles, ancient bakelite gear and big clunking wind-up double decks, strictly for 78s. The equipment belongs to Boston hero Ron Diggins, who died last December aged 91, having started DJing in 1947 and enjoying a career spanning 50 years.
Ron Diggins was a radio engineer in Boston, UK, who ran a business providing sound for events. When he began his business, he was mostly providing background music at school fairs, and had never used his set up for an event focused on dancing before, however in September of 1947 when approached by girls from the Swineshead Land Army about providing music for a party, he took the gig, not wanting to turn away the work.
In order to make his parties better, he built the first of 6 “Diggola’s” in 1949, with two turntables, a homemade mixer, lights, microphone, amp, and speakers.
Prior to Ron and his setup, the typical dancing hall was limited to a small band, typically drums accompanied by piano and/or violin. Ron and his 78s gave the audience a much wider selection of familiar music to enjoy, gaining him popularity rapidly.
In addition to Diggins, a Radio 4 Documentary from 2004 recalls only a few other DJs who were active in the UK during the 40s and 50s, including Bertrand Thorpe, who used to stand with his back to the crowd and flick 3 light bulbs on and off to the music. Diggins retired in 1995, after 50 years of DJing, and performed over 20,000 times in his career, despite never charging more than £50. For more on Diggins, and his pioneering moves in mobile DJing, head on over to Daily Diggers.