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Remembering the pirate days: 'The last time you heard him on air could have been the first'

Like most of our best DJs, Tony Fenton started underground.

PastedImage-12904 Fenton in 1979 (yes, he was only 18 here) Source: David Reddy

Updated 13 March, 7am

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN pouring in over the past 24 hours for radio legend Tony Fenton as the nation was saddened at the news of his death.

The DJ passed away after a four-year battle with cancer yesterday morning, aged just 53.

Fenton spent his entire adult life working in radio, starting where most Irish DJs have – at the pirates.

Fenton’s first stop was at ARD (Alternative Radio Dublin) where he teamed up with a number of now-household names including Ian Dempsey, Brendan O’Connor, Gareth O’Callaghan and Marty Whelan.

In the background, and doing it as a “hobby”, at the same time was David Reddy who took the above picture of an 18-year-old Fenton. Speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday, the now-consultant recalled the “old days when we had all the pirates”.

“It is where I met Tony,” he said. “I was interested in radio – the background, technical stuff. It was great to be very much a part of it.

It was great to get something other than stale, State broadcasting.

Ten years Fenton’s senior, Reddy remembers him as being the same on air, as off.

“He never changed. The last time you heard him on air could have been the first.”

Reddy kindly sent us a number of images from his time at ARD in 1979, which we reproduce here in memory of the start of Tony’s illustrious, hall-of-fame career.

PastedImage-94237 This was a shot from the ARD Christmas Party in 1979 - check out the messers in the middle there.


Dempsey, a long-time friend of Fenton’s, said the DJ’s legacy would be one of positivity.

“Tony liked to be happy,” he said during TodayFM’s special tribute earlier today, adding that he would not have liked people to “get down” over today’s sad news.

PastedImage-53373 Brendan O'Carroll waves to Reddy's camera in 1979.

A short time after his images were taken in 1979, ARD became Radio 257 for a brief spell, before switching back to the original name.

Fenton stayed with ARD for about a year, Reddy recalls.

“Tony and Ian were recruited up to Donnybrook,” Reddy recalls. There were stops in other powerful pirates such as Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova first, before he made the leap to the legitimate stations in 1985.

For the next 14 years, he enthusiastically told listeners, ‘You’re the winner’ and championed new bands and music on 2FM as well as hosting popular shows Hotline and the Top 30 Chart Show.

PastedImage-28503 2fm colleague Gareth O'Callaghan also began life at ARD in 1979

In 2003, he left Montrose and took some time out before being lured back onto the airwaves with independent station Today FM.

Presenting a lunchtime slot for the first two years, he then moved to the afternoon slot which has used his name ever since.

In 2011, he revealed he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. On being given the all clear in March 2011, the disease returned a couple of months later.

Last year, he was inducted into the PPI Hall of Fame, forever remembered as a true ‘jock’, a DJ’s DJ.

More: “He was what it was to be a DJ”: Tributes paid to radio’s Tony Fenton

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

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