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25 Years in Broadcasting-unscripted for almost half a lifetime!

Me in 1998 as my radio journey began!

As someone remarked to me the other day, “25 years eh? You get less for murder!”

Perhaps you do, but this past quarter of a century in broadcasting has felt anything but a ‘stretch’ for me, as February the 16th this week heralded that particular career milestone.

Feb 16th 1998 was an unremarkable day weather-wise. I mean, you shouldn’t really remember what it was like out on a random day 25 years back, but it was important to me on that very first day as a broadcaster of no fixed ability. You see, my first job on the wireless was using wireless telecommunications equipment to relay traffic news to the 1 million listeners or so that BRMB had in Birmingham from 1500 feet above the city and its surrounding motorways in a Seneca twin-engine prop aircraft.

The “Flying Eye” had become a very important part of BRMB’s heritage, as other ‘eye in the sky’ style jobs had become on other BBC and commercial radio stations around the country. I was following in the footsteps of names that really meant something to Brummie listeners; Charlie Neil (who was in a helicopter in those early days in the 90’s before the switch to something with wings!) Jimmy Franks and Tammy Gooding. Tammy had been my immediate predecessor and had spent a few days prior to my debut showing me the ropes as I flew in the back seat of the plane watching her work. She was leaving to become co-presenter of the BRMB Breakfast show, which was testament to just how brilliant she’d been as Flying Eye.

Tammy (and Charlie & Jimmy too for that matter) wasn’t just brilliant at getting the travel information across in short sharp 30-second bulletins, but she had also struck up a fabulous on-air rapport with BRMB’s long-serving and extraordinary breakfast show host, Les Ross - he of Round The World Phone Calls, daft soap ‘Yesterday Never Comes’ and simply playing ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ as a weather forecast on appropriate days. I had to be as good as my illustrious predecessors in every department, as I knew I was on a very very short trial for the station bosses. And I’d quit my job to do this, so the pressure was well and truly on.

They were dead right to put me on such a short lease, though. At the tender age of 29 at that point, my only previous forays into radio had been over a decade before in my 6th form college days, which had ultimately led to banking (naturally LOL!) and any teenage thoughts of emulating Tommy Vance were swiftly kicked to the kerb. Anyway, I was imminently going to be a rock star as drummer with Shotgun Wedding so…

10 years on and Shotgun Wedding had divorced whilst another original band I’d subsequently joined similarly perished, I was working as a lonely guitar distributor in a Cradley Heath warehouse and then suddenly the chance came to record comedy football sketches for XTRA-AM, BRMB’s sister AM station, after the station was told about my knack for silly impressions of local football managers by my long-time best mate Keith Laurent.

Ultimately, this led to my arrival at around 6.30am at Birmingham Airport’s cargo entrance on that February morning to liaise with Geoff Benton my friendly pilot, collect the broadcasting equipment needed to be heard on air from above the city and (chocks) away we went on what was a calm, relatively clear morning, which made things a darn sight easier on my first full day in this new role.

I had to deliver around 9 or 10 bulletins during our 2 hours in the air, not just for Les’s show, but also for XTRA-AM breakfast host Tony Butler, a man who had in the 1970’s & 80’s revolutionised football coverage and especially phone-ins on Independent Local Radio, but was now approaching retirement and enjoying a less abrasive style of phone manner with his beloved callers who would ring in attempting to answer his conundrum of the day in the hopes of winning a personalised Butler egg cup “THEY’RE ALL AROUND US…THEY’RE ALL AROUND US…WHAT ARE THEY? 0121 432 2000 GETS YOU TO ME” he would bellow in his heavy Brummie accent most links, prompting callers to come on air and give answers like “Is it clouds, Tone?” To which Tony would leave a pregnant pause before replying “No…no my darling it’s not clouds!” and then he probably crossed ‘clouds’ off his list of several potential answers, so as to keep the quiz going until as late in the show as possible. Allegedly.

Les Ross was - and still is - a quite brilliant broadcaster. The BRMB audience adored him and rightly so - he could talk for England on any given subject (except football, which he delighted in knowing nothing about), had just the right air of mischief around celebrity gossip and talked so much that getting 5 songs played in an hour was quite an achievement for his producer Liza. She was my first point of audio contact whilst in the air preparing to do my first ever bulletin… “Ok, Ian, coming to you next!” Is what I heard in my headphones whilst sat in the front of the plane to the right of Geoff as Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One” came to an end on the show. Les said something or other that was screamingly funny about Shania and then hit the travel jingle, heralding the BEE-DEE-DEEP sounds that would switch car radios instantly to our output through the TA button on their dashboards, then came the sung “96.4FM, BRMB!!” and then the orchestral backing (with drums) that would then play under the bulletin.

“Ian Danter’s in the Flying Eye, morning Ian!!” exclaimed Les…and I was on! I wasn’t funny, nor attempted to be - I simply rattled through the problems we’d spotted on our first circuit of the West Midland Conurbation, typically starting in Brum city centre before tracking up the M6 to Cannock, across the A5 to Tamworth, then all the way down the M42 to the M5 interchange before heading back up to the M6 link…and all places in-between if we were ever notified of an accident to go and check out somewhere in our patch.

I had to finish my bulletin each time with “That’s your latest Traffic and Travel with The Carphone Warehouse…where independence means a great deal!” This was Les’s cue to pick up from me, thank me and remind listeners I’d be back in 20 minutes with a further update. And that was that. I thought I’d done pretty well for a first go…however, Liza was quick to pull me up on something as she came back on the line. “Ian?” she said “That was fine, but please don’t say ‘fast lane’ when referring to the motorways please. It’s always inside, middle and outside lanes, ok?” “Oh yes, sorry Liza, really sorry about that” I replied, feeling suitably chastened all of a sudden “Don’t worry” she said quickly as if to make sure I didn’t go into my shell “We’ve all done it - speak to you in 20!” And she then signed off and I turned the switch on my broadcast kit so I could then do a bulletin on the XTRA AM frequency.

Eventually, it was all done and we landed sometime after 9am - a reporter & photographer from the Birmingham Mail were waiting on the tarmac when we parked up to take my picture and get some copy about my first day in this iconic role. My ugly mug subsequently appeared on page 5 of that day’s edition of the paper! By the end of that first week, I was summoned into the programme controller’s office to be told that I was doing a fine job and was no longer on trial but instead now had a 6-month contract with the station. I was ecstatic - before long, I was being taught how to operate the XTRA-AM studio desk as I was pretty soon thrust into covering shows like ‘The Elvis Hour’ or ‘The Beatles Hour’ on the station as well as my Flying Eye duties.

I look back now and shake my head in disbelief at how my life took such an extraordinary handbrake turn at the end of the 1990’s. Beatles Hours soon became weekend overnight shows on BRMB and there was huge encouragement from management to stretch out as a broadcaster and make the most of my silly voices - then Tom Ross conscripted me as a football reporter as part of his team in 1999 watching Walsall (initially) and then my beloved Birmingham City amongst others…next thing you know, I’m presenting BRMB Drivetime and the Flying Eye mantle was summarily passed on to Kate Nicholls in early 2000. It was nuts, absolutely nuts the rate at which things mushroomed for me at BRMB.

The rate at which things blossomed for me at talkSPORT from 2004 onwards was equally mad - and here I am nearly 20 years on as a TS veteran and still loving the work - still feeling very much valued too, I must say. Same goes for the work I do for Planet Rock which has been part of my life for a good 7 years or so now. I’ve always tried to be a team player wherever I’ve been and that philosophy appears to have stood me in good stead in the last quarter of a century. Here’s to another…well, let’s see about 25 years more. I’d be nearly 80 by that point! Best to be realistic I reckon. Let’s get the Everton/Leeds commentary out of the way tomorrow first, shall we and we’ll take it from there!!? :)

Huge thanks are due to Tom Ross, Paul Jackson, Alan Carruthers, Steve Hodge, Bill Ridley, Liam Fisher, Steve Morgan, Mike Bovill, Lee Clayton, Dennie Morris, Jason Bourne, Ric Blaxhill, James Pllu, Liz Barnes and a whole host of producers, assistant producers, fellow presenters, pundits & football media departments who’ve been unfailingly there for me so far on this weird old broadcasting journey. Not forgetting Keith Laurent my best mate, who still reminds me regularly (around once a day) that if it wasn’t for his letter to Tom telling him how funny my Trevor Francis impression was, I’d be nowhere.

Sadly he’s right!! LOL - thanks Keith…have I bought enough curries at the Rajnagar to compensate yet?

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