LONG before the days of BBC Radios 1, 2, etc, there was a station called Radio Six, set up by an 11 year-old Tony Currie, in his home in Ardrossan, Ayrshire. Today, Radio Six International is celebrating its 50th birthday, with Currie – whose career includes being the first voice on Radio Clyde and several years at both STV and BBC Scotland – hopefully receiving contributions from some of the biggest names in radio.
Tune in today on www.radiosix.com.
When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?
Probably when I was five. My dad rented a tape recorder for a week (they were so expensive that a week’s rental was all he could afford) and he and mum recorded things. It scared the sh*t out of me, and I hid behind the sofa.
But, that Christmas, dad bought mum her own tape recorder and, when I was off school with bronchitis (a regular occurrence in the mid 1950’s), she would sit me down in front of the microphone, press ‘record’ and leave me to my own devices.
I invented my own radio station – the ‘Antony Home Service’ – read imaginary news, weather, shipping and even did the ‘pips’ myself!
That was it. I was hooked forever. When I was ten, a couple of school chums appeared one summer afternoon with an ex-army microphone. They had no idea how to ‘make it work’. But I had. Five minutes and a pair of wander plugs later, I was reading news through the family radio and my two chums were so impressed they gifted me the microphone. I decided to set up a proper ‘radio station’ in my attic. Two clockwork gramophones, a box of my dad’s old 78s and a wire to the living room later, and Radio Six was born.
I persuaded four of my pals to join me in this enterprise. My best friend, Derek Andrews (with whom I’d already established a hand-printed magazine) came along, and three nine year-old girls, whose role was to make tea and keep the captive audience of mum and gran sitting long enough to listen to the programmes.
On June 6 1963 – a hot sunny day – we got out of school early and put the station on the air at 3.15pm. The station log says ‘tea was given’. Indeed it was, but the girls abandoned the venture soon afterwards. Derek bailed out a year later. I didn’t and Radio Six celebrates its 50th anniversary today.
Over the years, I constructed a proper studio – double decks, mixers and even a homemade cart machine for the jingles that were recorded by a local group – and other like-minded people somehow found me and joined our merry band.
Dave Marshall – then a biscuit salesman – brought tins of broken biscuits and hosted a 15-minute request programme beamed to the Eventide Home next door. Steve Wright – then aged 15 – travelled all the way from Rayleigh in Essex to my Ardrossan home to host the breakfast show. And so it started to build…
What was your first ‘media job’?
A friend came back from a trip to the USA in 1972 and presented me with a fait accompli. He’d done a deal with KPFK – the big Pacifica network station in Los Angeles – for me to supply a monthly show of European ‘alternative’ music. Kraftwerk (then totally unknown), David Allen’s Radio Gnome Invisible, Talisker and their ilk.
I taped the show in my studio and sent it to LA every month, thanks to a friendly Pan Am air hostess. It was 20 years later that I discovered my ‘Captain Midnight’ show hadn’t been broadcast monthly – they simply played it every Saturday at midnight until a new one arrived. It was a cult show, but nobody bothered to tell me. I got paid, though, and used the money to buy a decent mixer for the studio.
Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now
Briefly? Okay. Mine was the first voice on Radio Clyde when it opened on December 31 1973. I produced and hosted the opening night show, then the drivetime show daily, the classical music show, and the Sunday worldwide requests.
Went from Clyde to STV as their chief announcer for 12 years, then set up Radio Six as Europe’s first cable radio network.
It lost me a load of money but got me a job as controller of programmes at the newly-created Cable Authority in London, with regulatory responsibility for all the emerging satellite and cable TV and radio channels. Six years later – after the Cable Authority merged with the IBA to become the ITC – I did a spell for United Artists with the task of putting Discovery Channel and Bravo on satellite and was then poached to be chief executive for AsiaVision, the first TV channel designed for the UK’s Asian population.
Then, three years in Dublin as director of programmes for TARA Television, setting up from scratch Ireland’s first satellite TV station.
After that a spell in Cambridge as chair and chief executive of Cambridge Café Radio, and thence to BBC Scotland as an announcer-director, initially working on both TV and radio and then, after two years producing and hosting Radio Scotland’s ‘Nightshift’, concentrating exclusively on TV.
And in between all that, writing regular magazine and newspaper columns, writing books and running a record label.
Oh, and of course, Radio Six was always broadcasting. It’s now officially called Radio Six International, though, of course, it’s easier to simply describe it as Radio Six. After the failure of the cable companies to build their networks quickly enough, I put in an unsuccessful bid for the Central Scotland radio licence in 1993, offering a speech-based station.
Then, one evening in 2000, my son, Leo, came home and asked if I’d like to put Radio Six on the internet. “Sure”, I said. “When can we start?”
Accustomed to the lengthy radio licensing process, I was taken aback by his answer. “It’s eight minutes to five – do you want to start at five o’clock?” We did. And we have remained online, 24/7, ever since at www.radiosix.com.
At various times during the past 13 years, we’ve been on shortwave (via Italy, USA, Lithuania and Latvia), satellite and medium wave (in Latvia and the Netherlands). The station – funded as a hobby and happily minus any commercial imperative – is now listened to in 190 countries and we currently syndicate 13 hours of programmes to 22 stations in the UK, US, Taiwan, Singapore and Taiwan.
For anniversary week, we’re broadcasting seven days of archive programmes.
Today, I hope to hear – during our live, 50th anniversary show (between 1535 and 2000) – contributions from various alumni, including Ken Bruce, Steve Wright, Dave Marshall, Dave Jamieson, Jim Gellatly, Charles Nove, John Cavanagh, Thea Newcomb, Kenny Tosh, Herb Alpert and a host of others. And Sheena Gibson – one of the girls who made the tea on opening day.
Any particularly big breaks along the way?
Oh, the gig with Radio Clyde. That was a perfect job. Setting ten precedents before breakfast. No model to base it on and we all made it up as we went along. It was enormous fun with some of the nicest people I ever met.
Who would you like to thank more than most?
Andy Park and Jimmy Gordon (now Lord Gordon of Strathblane) gave me the Clyde job, and although I know I’d still have done most of what I did, their belief in me made a difference in my early years.
What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?
That being a broadcaster will never make you rich, unless you’re Jonathan Ross. But it always makes you happy.