BBC1 Presenters Play Hooky for “Great DJ Hunt”

BBC1 Radio’s Greg James has theories on where his fellow BBC presenters have gone in the Great DJ Hunt

When BBC1 Radio presenter Greg James went into work on Monday July 17th, thirty of his coworkers decided to play hooky, leaving him in charge of the station’s hosting duties for the foreseeable future. He was greeted by a message written in Comic Sans from a “sentient office printer” providing the following instructions written in Comic Sans:

Happy anniversary, Greg! This time last year, Radio 1 took your show away from you and you had to win it back by completing the Giant Jigsaw. You traveled the length of the country, swam with sharks, and jumped off a 10 meter diving board (sorry about that). This year, you don’t need to worry: you’ve not lost your show. But every other Radio 1 DJ has lost their show. You’re the only one left. You’re on your own until you work out where the others are.

All of Radio 1 is in your hands. You need to read every text. Play every song. Speak to every caller. This is your dream come true! Non-stop Greg…until you can find a DJ to replace you. Would you like to know how to find your fellow Radio 1 DJs? You’ll need to go and get the next piece of paper.

That next piece of paper laid out the rules of Radio 1’s Giant DJ Hunt: Greg (with more than a little help from his loyal listeners) has to track down clues to the location of his missing colleagues scattered across the internet, and confront them with a simple question: “are you a Radio 1 DJ?”

Status of the Giant Radio DJ Hunt at the end of Day 1, along with the clues that caught Danny and Nat

The Giant Radio DJ Hunt So Far: A Dash of Geoguessr, A Sprinkle of Puzzling
At the time of this article, 11 out of 30 presenters have been found, with listeners tracking down clues left by presenters across their social media at a rapid clip. Charlie Hedges was the first to be found at a Tayto’s crisp factory in Northern Ireland after sharing an Instagram Story of herself outside the building’s four distinctive turrets (along with a picture of some potatoes). Meanwhile, Danny Howard and Pete Tong were tracked down because fans knew he had a DJ set in Ibiza, making it easier to track down the poolside photo he shared. Nat O’Leary and Dean McCullough had the most puzzle-heavy clue so far, with Nat’s Roman toga combining with Dean’s rugby gear directing listeners to the Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths in Wales.

So far, the Giant Radio DJ Hunt has followed a similar flow: Radio 1 presenters (either alone or in groups) drop cryptic clues to their location in Instagram Stories, and listeners track down the clues. What makes the Giant Radio DJ Hunt so special is how leads and false starts are being documented, live on the radio.

Greg James kindly gave up his WhatsApp number, allowing fans to message with updates on the leads they’re chasing and their progress through the hunt. Accordingly, that allows the show’s producers (who have not joined their fellow presenters on the run) to follow up and facilitate live interviews about the hunt’s progress. So when a listener traveled out to the Roman bath house in Bath, they were able to report that an employee at the bath house checked out the picture and recognized it as the bath in Carleon, live on air.

Highlights from the Hunt are being syndicated on Greg James’ All Day Breakfast podcast, and vicariously experiencing tales from the hunt make for scintillating listening even if you don’t dive into the hunt yourself.

Greg James assembling a giant jigsaw in the water. Image via BBC1 Radio

A History of Summer Fun with Radio 1’s “Summer Games
The letter launching the BBC’s Giant Radio DJ Hunt made a passing reference to how this isn’t the first time the channel messed with Greg James over the summer – at this point, the Summer Games are a bit of an institution at the network, with James at the center of it time and again. Last year, he was kicked off his show and challenged to travel across the UK to collect 20 jigsaw pieces in order to get his job back. The prior year, BBC locked James in a camper van for a sort of reverse escape room: he was locked in the camper, but all the clues on how to escape were outside the van, with clues pointing to the stickers of specific products at Aldi, Sainsbury’s, and Asda locations.

The 2019 challenge was James’ turn to hide alongside co-presenter Nick Grimshaw, for a two day long game of hide and seek.

There’s a long tradition of the media engaging their audiences by challenging them to find something or someone who is missing: as early as the 1920s, the Westminster Gazette held a hunt for the fictional Lobby Lud, providing clues to help the newspaper’s readership track down the subject and location of its coverage, obscured under the name “Lobby Lud”. Starting in the 1980s, The Oreganian started publishing clues for the annual Rose Festival Treasure Hunt, a scavenger hunt that used poetic language to hint at the location of the Rose Festival Medallion.

Before and after photos of Perplex City’s Satoshi, the target of a 14-year puzzle-based search

This tradition carried on into the digital era, with early alternate reality games like Perplex City introducing challenges like Billion 2 One, where players were tasked with tracking down a man named Satoshi armed with only his first name, and a photo taken of him on vacation as a real-world test of the small world phenomenon. That particular challenge went unsolved for over a decade until Tom-Lucas Säger (th0may on Reddit) tracked him down using newly created facial recognition tools that matched the photo of Satoshi with a more recent photo, taken over a decade after the original.

These challenges have also taken more fictional constructs: when Wired held its own manhunt in 2009, journalist Evan Ratliff submitted himself as the target of a month-long nationwide search to explore what it means to try and drop off the grid in a digital age, making a game of things by submitting everything from his text messages to his credit card records up for perusal. He was ultimately caught at a gluten-free pizza shop in New Orleans days before the competition ended, but the project was so successful Wired brought back a more fictionalized version of the project as a promotional campaign for the movie Repo Men, sending four contestants on the run with artificial organs in tow, ripe for repossession.

JoseMonkey maintains an interactive map of all the locations he’s identified, using videos as a reference

The Evolving World of Surveillance as Entertainment
While the above examples are rather on-the-nose examples of using surveillance as a form of entertainment, one of the most popular examples is the game GeoGuessr, where players try and guess where Google Maps Street View images were taken based on contextual clues. Expert players like Rainbolt have leveraged those skills to do everything from helping a fan find out where a photo with their late father was taken to tracking down the location of a particularly tasty bagel in NYC.

Other creators like JoseMonkey are turning surveillance into a form of educational entertainment: when people explicitly ask him find them, JoseMonkey uses a combination of contextual clues and coding to track down the locations of people based on their videos. Meanwhile, Kristen Sotakoun focuses on a more personal form of edutainment, engaging in “consensual doxxing” to walk people through the process of tracking down peoples’ birthdays based on the digital trails they leave. It’s fun content to watch…but also a jarring reminder about how much information we share about ourselves, without necessarily realizing it.

The Giant Radio DJ Hunt is considerably easier and more lighthearted than any of these games, with most presenters being found within a few hours of their first clue dropping with no deep geolocative knowledge, coding, or relatives stalking required (in fact, please don’t do any of that even if you think it might work). And since most of the clues are getting distributed through the presenters’ own Instagram feeds, it’s a chance for presenters to engage with their fans in a consensual manner that’s only a little bit creepy. It will be interesting to see if any of the “professionals” come out to play for this, though.

Because scavenger hunts can sometimes inadvertently lead players down inadvertent rabbit holes, the rules of this game are quite clear. Don’t go to dangerous areas, and check in with the team to offer help before falling too far down a particular rabbit hole. Specifically:

None of the DJ’s are in dangerous places! So you don’t need to go hunting through quarries, quicksand, abandoned buildings or treacherous swamps to find them…If you think you know where a DJ is, don’t take things into your own hands. If you want to offer to help, send Greg a WhatsApp on 03700100100 and his team will call you back if they can use your assistance.”

With 19 DJs left to be found, the next day or two should be quite interesting – follow along with live updates by tuning into Radio 1, keeping an eye on the Giant Radio DJ Hunt blog, or catching the highlights on Greg James’ All Day Breakfast podcast. And while you’re at it, watch to this video of Greg James and Taylor Swift lip syncing to Blank Space back in 2014 – it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

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