Tony Gillham / Presenter, Programme Controller, Company Director
Tony Gillham shows
I was not yet a teenager when I first heard offshore radio in the early 60s. Radio Veronica was playing non-stop music all day long and it didn’t matter that the DJ’s were speaking Dutch – it was exciting and different to anything else on the dial and I knew my destiny had been set! Fast forward a couple of years and my family are relocated to Essex due to a new job for my Dad. I could hear a plethora of stations beaming their signals from the North Sea. I loved Caroline on 199 and Wonderful Radio London instilled high standards and introduced us to Top 40 radio with jingles. Just one problem for me here – I’m 15 and still at school! I wasn’t going to let that stop my ambitions though. I put together what was possibly the first community station in the UK so that I could get experience of being on the air. I linked all of the neighbours houses with a cable and for a couple of hours each evening I would beam pop music and chat to their front rooms – even the local chip shop was connected! The local paper got to hear about this enterprise and published an article about me. Little did I know that this would help launch my broadcasting career. The local hospital radio station got in touch to ask if I would present a weekly record review show which I jumped at. My first show was 22nd December 1966 and a recording still exists to this day! Also, as a result of that newspaper story, I got a letter from the managing director of Wonderful Radio London – Phillip Birch. He had read the story with great interest and invited me out to the radio station which was on a ship about 4 miles off the coast of Essex. It was 14th April 1967 when I made the trip – it was the day that was to change my life. I knew as I left the MV Galaxy – home of Wonderful Radio London – that I wanted to be in broadcasting and nothing was going to stop me (except perhaps my Dad who had other ideas for me!).
It took a few years but I finally made it to full time radio. My first daily show was on a closed circuit radio station based in a biscuit factory! United Biscuits Network gave me a grounding in radio that was not available elsewhere. After a year I was offered my first commercial radio job on Radio Tees. My boss there, Bob Hopton was such a great mentor. I learned a lot and quickly progressed on to other commercial radio stations. I ended up at Chiltern Radio in Bedford in the early 80s. My first outside broadcast was from the Market Square in St Neots. I couldn’t believe what the town had to offer and yet I’d never heard of it! I eventually joined BBC local radio in Bedfordshire and again it was a big learning curve. Programmes were mainly speech led and I was able to gain valuable experience in news presenting and interviewing techniques.
Over the past five decades or so I’ve presented on many stations including the Early Show on BBC Radio 2 in the 80s. But it’s local radio that I love most. I get quite a kick out of presenting a show and then walking out of the studio into the very area I’ve been broadcasting to. When I moved back to the area nearly 20 years ago I was amazed to discover that local radio had all but disappeared from the landscape. Time to do something about it! I discovered that it was possible to apply for a community radio licence. The process was very long and drawn out. I decided to undertake some test broadcasting using a short term 28-day licence. Finally in 2007 Black Cat Radio hit the airwaves from studios at my home in Buckden! I had recruited some like minded volunteers and we were astonished at the response from listeners. A few years later we were able to apply for a full time licence and finally, on 17th April 2017, Black Cat Radio became a 24/7 operation!
So, I’ve come full circle with broadcasting. Starting off with a community station in the 60s and returning to the very same 50 years later. Long may it continue!