Tony Gillham was not yet a teenager when he 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 DJs were speaking Dutch – it was exciting and different from anything else on the dial and Tony realised his destiny had been set. Fast forward a couple of years and his family relocated to Essex, due to a new job for Tony's Dad.
Tony could hear a plethora of stations beaming their signals from the North Sea. He loved Caroline on 199m and Wonderful Radio London (Big L) instilled high standards and introduced us to Top 40 radio with jingles.
Just one problem for Tony here – he was just 15 and still at school. That wasn’t going to stop his ambitions though. Tony put together what was possibly the first community station in the UK, so that he could gain experience of being on the air.
Tony linked all of the neighbours houses with a cable and for a couple of hours each evening, would beam pop music and chat to their front rooms – even the local chip shop was connected. The local paper heard about this enterprise and published an article about his radio station. Little did he know then, that this would help launch a broadcasting career.
The local hospital radio station got in touch to ask if Tony would present a weekly record review show. His first show was on 22nd December 1966 and a recording still exists to this day. As a result of the same newspaper story, he received a letter from the managing director of Wonderful Radio London – Phillip Birch. Birch had read the story with great interest and invited him out to the radio station, located on a ship about four miles off the coast of Essex. It was 14th April 1967 when Tony made the trip – it was the day that was to change his life. He knew as he left the MV Galaxy – home of Wonderful Radio London – that he wanted to be in broadcasting and nothing was going to stop him (except perhaps his Dad who had other ideas for Tony's career!).
It took a few years but he finally made it to full-time radio. Tony's first daily show was on a closed-circuit radio station based in a biscuit factory. United Biscuits Network "The Home of Good Baking", gave him a grounding in radio that was not available elsewhere.
After a year Tony was offered his first commercial radio job on Radio Tees. The boss there, Bob Hopton, was such a great mentor. Tony learned a lot and quickly progressed on to other commercial radio stations. He returned to the BBC, joining BBC Radio Devon in 1998. He was hosting the afternoon show at first before moving to the regional late show a couple of years later.
Over the past five decades or so Tony has presented on many stations including the Early Show on BBC Radio 2 in the 80s. These days he runs my own community station and is very excited to be returning to the west country airwaves presenting the music I love on DevonAiR Gold.