Burnett began his radio career while in the Royal Air Force in the Persian Gulf in 1964. In 1966 he joined offshore radio station, Radio 270, broadcasting off Scarborough, North Yorkshire. After the banning of the offshore stations he moved in 1967 to Manx Radio on the Isle of Man, but he soon joined Radio Luxembourg, where he hosted the chart show. Here Burnett discovered many recordings, previously thought lost, of propaganda broadcasts by William Joyce ("Lord Haw Haw") to Britain, made from the Luxembourg stations during the Nazi occupation. On Luxembourg, he presented the Saturday Top 20 show from 1967 to 1974.
On 24 March 1974 Burnett joined BBC Radio 1 hosting a Sunday morning show All There Is To Hear (a radio one airplay chart show) and also hosted the station's national Top 20 show, broadcast on Sunday evenings between 6 and 7pm whilst Tom Browne, the main presenter of the show at the time, was absent. The first record he ever played on the station was Seven Seas Of Rhye by the group Queen. In 1976, an on-air parody of the U.S. hit single "Convoy", became "Convoy GB" (by Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks), which led to a release of the song as a single along with fellow DJ Dave Lee Travis. The song reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart, and Burnett appeared dressed as a chicken on Top of the Pops.
From 5 July 1976 he hosted the weekday lunchtime show after Johnnie Walker left the station and moved to California. Here he had the responsibility of revealing the new singles chart every Tuesday lunchtime. His popular show included several features such as Pub of the Day, Fun at One and Is, Was, Should Have. Burnett became a regular presenter of Top of the Pops, and presented the Radio 1 Roadshow during the summer. In 1981 he moved from lunchtimes to later in the afternoons, but his daily show ended in 1982 to allow Steve Wright's show to be extended. During 1982–84, Burnett was heard on BBC Radio 2 as a stand-in host for the likes of David Hamilton and Terry Wogan and occasionally presenting the Early Show. In 1978, Burnett co-hosted the Miss World contest broadcast on BBC1.
Between 1985 and 1987, he moved to Pennine Radio (now The Pulse of West Yorkshire) in Bradford, Southern Sound (now Heart Sussex) in Sussex, and Capital Radio, where he deputised for Alan Freeman on Pick of the Pops Take Two in February 1988. In October 1985, billed as the 'Pee Bee Squad' he reached #52 in the United Kingdom chart with "Rugged and Mean, Butch and on Screen".
In 1988 Capital split its frequencies and he joined Capital Gold where he presented a daytime Vintage Chart programme (Monday–Friday at 1 pm), playing charts from 1956 to 1972. He also did a Sunday afternoon show on Capital Gold (2-5pm). This featured an hour of listeners' requests. He featured a Vintage Top 30 in the final couple of hours, playing complete top 30s again from 1956 to 1972. He left Capital Gold around 1994, and turned up on Classic Gold firstly in 1996 in an early evening show, when GWR swallowed up the Chiltern Stations. The Classic Gold platform was then broadcast on the old Chiltern Network's Supergold stations, as a replacement. This show disappeared a couple of years later.
He returned to Classic Gold around 2000, where he presented at lunchtimes and early afternoons. He left the station when it merged with Capital Gold to form the new Gold network in August 2007. In 2003, he was regular guest presenter on a Networked show on a few stations The UK Top 20 Rewind along with Shaun Tilley. During that run, he had to have a gallstone operation, and was off for a period. In the last week of August 2007, Burnett was heard on Big L International 1395MW Sky0190 as a replacement for afternoon DJ Steve Garlick, who was on holiday. He was due to present a regular weekend show on BigL, but this never happened.
On 9 November 2007 Burnett broadcast with Dave Lee Travis on KCFM from Hull, and on 16 November 2007 he did the show as their 'Live Legend' of radio. For the following four weeks he had a three-hour weekly spot on the station - 'Burnett Live' - which broadcast live late on Friday evenings. Blackburn replaced Burnett in this slot in January 2008. However, Burnett continues to regularly broadcast on the station. He did a late evening show there, in the early Summer of 2008. Stood in, for Shaun Tilley in October 2008, and also did the 4 – 7 pm slot there on Christmas Eve 2008.
Burnett could be heard presenting weekdays between 5 and 7 (9 February – September 2009) on internet radio station Wight FM (this was voicetracked). He could be heard on KCFM (Hull) on Sunday afternoons between 12 and 3 between Summer 2009-Summer 2010. On Saturday 16 October 2010, he stood in for Dave Cash on BBC Radio Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Solent, Oxford and Berkshire presenting a classic chart show featuring top 40 sounds from 1971 and 1981. He also did a Christmas Eve show on Time106.6 in 2010, and another on Monday 27 December at 10 am. He can now be heard from time to time on The Vintage Top 40 Show on various BBC Local Stations on Sundays at 5 pm.
- BBC Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday 18 October 2004
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 323. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- "BBC Genome Project". Paul Burnett. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
- "Broadcast - BBC Programme Index".
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 422. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.