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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 17 January 2021
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"Sunshine, sea, sand, hot tarmac on the N11 and Tony Fenton"

Fenton’s voice was the backdrop to growing up in the ’70s and ’80s’, writes Steve Conway.

Tony Fenton
Tony Fenton
Image: /Photocall Ireland

GROWING UP IN the late ’70s and early ’80s Tony Fenton’s voice was part of a familiar backdrop in the era of the big pirates – ARD, Sunshine, and Nova.

He sounded great then – which was no mean feat considering the vast array of talent on those stations – but for me he will always live in my memory as an essential element of my summer holidays in the 90s, a beacon “cannot miss” programme amid a sea of wallpaper music.

Long since having moved to the UK and forged my own careers in radio and IT, the annual summer holiday back to Ireland was a ritual of my first marriage.

Each year we would load up our Vauxhall estate and make the long drive to Fishguard, arriving off the ferry in Rosslare with two golden weeks of beaches, forests, mountain hikes and road-trips ahead of us. And music, dipping in and out of the various radio stations on offer – South East Radio, East Coast, Limerick 95,

The Hotline

Atlantic 252, as well as whatever pirates we would come across – ABC, DLR, Sunset and others. And then there was 2FM. And The Hotline. Always The Hotline.

Growing up in Dublin had me spoiled for great radio, and I’d always found myself a very picky listener, and very quick to hit the button to move to the next station if I didn’t like what I was hearing.

But Tony Fenton on The Hotline – “The Fastest Hour Of The Day” – had me hooked from the get-go, and not only was there no chance of my ever hitting that “next please” button while Tony was on air, the show was such compulsive listening that we gradually found ourselves adapting our days so that we were somehow always in the car and driving whenever that magic hour was on.

Days on the beach would conclude with ice cream or fish and chip timed to be eaten in tune with The Hotline. We would always make it back down the mountain in time for Tony, and even if we’d hit the shops in Cork or Dublin, the other half would be as keen as me to tear herself away, and have us back in the car and rolling down the car-park ramp as the first pick was made from the list of Hotline tracks published in the evening paper.

The drive

To this day, driving along the back road from Enniskerry to Roundwood reminds me of the Hotline, and of the squeals of delight of some teenage girl, studying for her Leaving Cert, who was the lucky prize winner on that particular evening. Sunshine, sea, sand, hot tarmac on the N11 and Tony Fenton – those were the memories of which great holidays were made.

Tony, for me, was that most rare of presenters: one who could combine high energy “hot hit” presentation with a softness of touch and a lack of ego so deftly that although he was the life and show of the on-air party, you never got the sense that it was all about him.

Many of my favourite presenters – people such as Johnny Walker and Bob Harris – work on more reflective, lower paced shows, where it is easier to be low key. On a pop network such as 2fm, on a drive slot, and in a fast paced request show, it is much harder to be both commanding, and yet soft of touch, and Tony managed this like he was born to it.

Heath 

The untimeliness of Tony’s passing – at just 53 – serves as a stark reminder to the people of my generation that health is something that can’t be taken for granted, and that checkups and screenings are not something that can be left till the later decades.

He fought hard over the last few years to battle the various forms of cancer, and spoke out in interviews about the importance of health in a world obsessed with money and material things. If some awareness and earlier actions can come about because of this, that will be good.

He will always be alive in my, and many other memories though, as that voice and personality which entertained and enriched so may of our days in the past.

Steve Conway is a broadcaster and author, originally from Dublin. His book, “Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline” is published by Liberties Press.

Read: DJ Tony Fenton has died at the age of 53>

Read: Remembering the pirate days: ‘The last time you heard him on air could have been the first’>

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Steve Conway

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