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Celebrity Interview – Radio Derby’s Ian Skye

Celebrity Interview – Radio Derby’s Ian Skye

Few things in this rapidly changing technological world stay the same, especially in broadcasting where bosses are always trying to attract more and sometimes younger listeners. 

But there’s one constant for those who listen to BBC Radio Derby: the knowledgeable yet jovial voice of Ian Skye who’s been educating, informing and entertaining listeners for the past 13 years. 

After a busy mid-morning show Ian sat down with me to chat about his eventful career, how it almost went “spectacularly wrong”, what brought him to tears and the only time he’s been starstruck. Who affected him in that way? The answer may surprise you . . .  

Ian admits he went into radio entirely by accident. He wanted to act: “I loved acting, I did amateur dramatics which was probably the making of me because I was painfully shy as a kid. It gave me huge confidence.” 

He went to the University of Kent in Canterbury to study German and during freshers’ week attended a meeting of the drama society with the intention of joining. But the people there were unlike those he’d met in his previous amateur dramatics group. 

“It was horrible,” Ian remembers. “It was everything you imagine about pretentious dramatic types – it just wasn’t for me.” 

He wasn’t really interested in radio but went to the student radio station’s introductory meeting.  

“At the end they said if you’re interested in being an engineer, come out of this door, if you’re interested in being a presenter come out of another door. There was no other way out! 

“Somehow I ended up getting trained to be a presenter. I did a weekly rock show called The Delicate Sound Of Thunder after the live Pink Floyd album and rapidly fell in love with radio.” 

When Ian had been looking for advice about a career he was told he should be a stage manager or a civil servant. The truth was he didn’t have any clue what he was going to do and how he could use his degree in German. 

So he pursued his interest in radio, recorded a demo tape on cassette and sent copies of it to the programme director of every commercial radio station in the country. 

Radio Wyvern in Worcester which was actually Ian’s home station – he grew up in Lickey End near Bromsgrove – asked him to go in for a chat. 

“By the end of ‘come in for a chat’ it was ‘we’re going to give you a job, it’s going to be the most we’ve ever paid a presenter, we really like you, you’re going to do the Drivetime show in the afternoons and a Saturday morning shift and you’re on at four o’clock.” 

Not only was Ian amazed because he had only 40 minutes to prepare for his first programme but also because he was told to change his name.  

His real name is Wickens but his new bosses said Wickens wouldn’t work in a sung jingle. He liked the Isle of Skye, so Ian Skye was born. 

He stayed at Wyvern for a couple of years and had a “fantastic time”. Then he was offered some work on the Overnight Express – a sustaining service at night for the GWR group of commercial stations in the south west. 

It wasn’t a full-time job but he was also asked to present shows in Swindon, so he moved to Bristol. 

Kent, Newcastle, Teesside and other stations followed. “There’s not many corners of the country I’ve not been on the radio,” says Ian. 

He was doing the breakfast show on Century FM in Nottingham, which was broadcast across the East Midlands, “when it all went spectacularly wrong”. 

Ian is careful what he says because he believes a non-disclosure agreement is still in place. 

“They sacked me and my producer supposedly for a piece of audio that we played but actually it wasn’t. We took them to a tribunal. In the end they settled out of court. That’s the only time in my career when I’ve been out of work.” 

He returned to the airwaves with The Wolf in Wolverhampton, another station which was prepared to pay him more than they normally would for a breakfast presenter. 

“I had a fab year or two there. And then Kelvin MacKenzie (the former Sun editor and media executive) bought the company and it went a bit different.” 

At that time Ian found that presenting jobs in commercial radio were disappearing because stations were merging. And he didn’t like the way presenters were called on to become more like salesmen: “Predominantly you would have to do things like asking people who can’t really afford it to ring a premium rate phone number in the hope that they’ll win a car or something.” 

He’d always fancied getting into the BBC and was delighted when he was finally accepted. 

“The BBC was the best thing I ever did because I’ve learned a whole new skillset. They’ve trained me to be an interviewer, trained me to be a journalist. But you also have the freedom to exercise all the skills you learned over the years in commercial radio. It’s been a fabulous place to work.” 

But it hasn’t been without its problems. Just over a year ago members of the National Union of Journalists at Radio Derby and other parts of the BBC staged a 48-hour strike after the output was slashed and replaced by a number of regional programmes. 

That led to popular, long-serving presenters including Sally Pepper and Martyn Williams leaving the station. 

Ian is again cautious with his words about the change to more regional content: “I think it’s silly and it’s short-sighted but it is what it is. I don’t think it’s the best thing we could be offering  and I hope it’ll get reversed at some point.  

“It was a tough time. We all had to reapply for our own jobs but you bite the bullet and you crack on with it. There are worse places to be in life than doing this for a living even if they make you jump through some hoops.” 

So what was his reaction when he learned he’d retained his job? “I cried. The editor went to shake my hand and I was crying because it had been a long, long process.” 

Ian has been presenting the mid-morning programme for the past three years after moving from the breakfast show.  

He’s really pleased with how it’s going. He and producers were able to devise the daytime show before it first went on air. 

The first hour, Your Say, allows anyone to get involved: “I’m a massive believer in there not being things that you can’t talk about. You can say anything – just be respectful and be open to a different point of view.” 

In the second hour Ian discusses something in the news locally. He also has a guest who might be appearing at Derby Theatre, Buxton Opera House or somewhere else in the region. 

“I’ve twice had about 40 minutes on the phone with Roger Daltry (of The Who). Those are the pinch-yourself moments. It’s not working, is it?” 

He’s proud of the third hour of the show as he came up with the idea. Lunch With . . . involves Ian talking to someone for much longer than the four minutes he normally gets for an interview. 

“Podcasts demonstrate the appetite for spending a bit more time with people. And everybody’s got a story. So many people say they’re chuffed to be here but don’t know why I think they’re interesting. I’ve not yet met the person who’s not interesting.” 

That says much about Ian’s ability to put guests at their ease and get them to open up. 

The final hour of the show consists of playing records from two different years. “It’s all good fun,” says Ian. 

He regularly gets asked who the best person he ever interviewed was. If he thinks someone wants to hear a name that will impress them, he cites Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams. He’s also interviewed two Prime Ministers and two Leaders of the Opposition. 

But he’s only been starstruck once – when he met Adam Ant! 

“It was in Swindon. I wasn’t interviewing him but he was in the building and I was ushered into a studio where I was introduced to Stuart (Goddard). I thought ‘that’s Adam Ant’s hand I’m shaking. He’s an icon.’ The man is just charisma on legs. I remember thinking ‘wow!’ 

“I’ve still kept the email from Carol Decker because I was chuffed to bits that I was getting personal emails from Carol who I used to spend far too long watching and listening to as a teenager when she was in T’Pau.” 

Ian says the best part of the show is meeting people. On the day I spoke to Ian he’d interviewed former Zombies’ singer Colin Blunstone followed by Katie Walford whose father David Hatton died in 1998 after he was given infected blood products. 

“I’ve been talking to Katie on and off for seven years. She came in and gave me a massive hug. She said ‘I’ve had a lot of people asking me to do this. I’m only doing it with you because it’s the safest place I could possibly do it – I know you, you’re a friend and you care.’  

“That’s what local radio does. We build up relationships with people and we get to care about them.” 

As the BBC endeavours to get its staff working across all platforms – radio, television and online – Ian says he’s caught the TV bug. In April he co-presented a programme about the election for the new East Midlands Mayor and really enjoyed it. 

“Doing that debate, to be honest I came away and thought I actually quite like this. I’m going after a bit more TV stuff now just to do something new.” 

But radio is Ian’s first love, especially as he can get away with being a little bit mischievous. I remind him of a recent show when he played a song by Charles and Eddie called Would I Lie To You? Afterwards he said: “Where was I? Oh yes, politicians!” 

He bats away the reprimand: “The playlist isn’t done by me – records turn up as they turn up! As a 53-year-old man I’m still proud of rebellion a little bit. I don’t really get authority unless it’s earned respect. Having said, that, I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I wasn’t a professional.” 

Ian who has four grown-up children – three daughters and a son – reckons he’s come to realise what really matters in life: “I’m extremely happy doing what I do. I love being on the radio. 

“There were a couple of times in my career when things got a little bit sticky and I thought ‘I’m going to get a proper job’. But then I think be grateful for what you’ve got. This is the best job in the world.” 


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