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News > Alumni news > Brian Anderson (Class of 1969) Tells Us About His Amazing Career in Radio

Brian Anderson (Class of 1969) Tells Us About His Amazing Career in Radio

Brian started out working for a famous pirate radio station but during his long career, he brought the power of radio to many institutions and millions of people across the globe.
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Many of these countries formerly hadn't been able to access radio - a freedom which we take for granted today.  In other countries people had little idea of life of culture and of music in the rest of the world. Here Brian tells us his memories of TWGSB, how he got into radio and where his incredible journey took him.... 

Reading recent updates on the TWGSB Alumni Connect Facebook page has encouraged me to write mine…. I enjoyed my time at ‘The Tech’ as it was known in those days... I had great teachers and a happy seven years. I started in Mr Makinsons 1C in September 1963 and left with 6 O levels and 2 A levels.

I was Brian Weeks then, nowadays Anderson is my trading name. There was only one thing I wanted to do when I left school and that was to work in Radio. Nothing in my life inspired me as much as pirate Radio Caroline and especially Radio London.  Those who travelled each day on the bus to and from Hawkhurst and Cranbrook to Benenden may well remember the 'anorak' who took his radio to school and played it very loudly on the bus….. and once accidentally in ‘Sparce’s’ geography class where I got the slipper for it.

For a few months ‘Huffer’ let me run a lunchtime radio station through the classroom loudspeaker system. I posted about this a few years ago on our Alumni Facebook Group: 'TWGSB Alumni Connect' and was utterly amazed that someone remembered me playing Status Quo and Pictures of Matchstick Men one lunchtime!  Here is a photo of me at that time - please note my nerdy 'free radio' badge! 

When I left school, I worked at the garden centre in Hawkhurst for a couple of years and in my spare time helped to start the Hospital Radio Station in Tunbridge Wells and did a few little bits and pieces for BBC Radios Brighton, Medway and London.

The UK pirates had closed in august 1967 because of the Labour government's Marine Broadcasting Offences Act making it illegal for any British citizen to work for them or any British company to advertise on them. Radio Caroline continued illegally until march 1968 when it ran out of money and the ship was towed to Amsterdam.

In 1973 the ship was bought by a boutique owner from The Hague and sailed to a few miles off the Dutch coast and started broadcasting again.  I walked in to the Radio Caroline office in The Hague and asked for a job. Two days later, when they found out I knew how to operate a studio, they made me studio manager of the Dutch service of Radio Caroline even though I could not speak Dutch! At that time there were two radio Caroline’s….. one in English live from the ship, and one in Dutch pre-recorded in the Hague. A few weeks after arriving in Holland the aerial fell down and the stations could no longer broadcast so I returned home to Hawkhurst.

On New Year’s Eve 1974 the phone rang at home. Radio Caroline had built a new aerial, found new advertisers and offered me a job on board as a studio technician. I went back to Holland and out to the ship. 50,000 watts of medium wave power. You could hold a fluorescent lamp tube in your hand anywhere on the ship and it would light up. After dark we were as loud in Moscow as we were in Aberdeen. A couple of days after arriving on board I was on air with a daily programme and stayed until august 1974 when the Dutch government banned the pirates, as the British had done a few years before. I then lived in The Hague for a few months living an almost hippyish life - normal enough in those days.

I returned home at Christmas 1974 and worked in a toilet paper factory in Maidstone for a few months. An enterprising businessman had started a radio station in the factory for the workers.

Legal commercial radio began in the UK in October 1973 with LBC and Capital Radio in London. I was very lucky to land a job on the 13th legal station to come on air and in June 1975 I joined Radio Tees in the North East as a presenter, and later, as Head of Music and training, and for a while as Acting Programme Controller. Many I worked with went on to great things….. and me? I went smaller…..

In 1982 I joined what was at the time the smallest commercial radio station in the UK serving the biggest area. Moray Firth Radio in Inverness. I was the Head of Programmes. A fantastic experience with some amazing people and the highest audience figures ever recorded in UK local radio.

Then in 1988 I won the top award in British radio. A Sony award for The Most Creative Use of Radio. For the next two years I won two more Sony awards for Best Daily Magazine Programme.

Through a bizarre set of coincidences and circumstances my first award got me to China in November 1988 where I spent three weeks as the guest of the Chinese Ministry of Radio Television and Film, travelling around China making a radio documentary for Capital Radio and other UK commercial stations.

At that time China was beginning to open up to the outside world. On my last day in Beijing, they offered me the chance to produce western pop music programmes in China as part of their open-door policy but there was one catch……. they would not pay me. I would have to pay them by selling advertising.

I went home to Scotland and received a fax from radio Shanghai inviting me to participate in and make programmes for a radio festival in May 1989. I returned to China in mid-May1989 and landed in Beijing just as the student demonstrations were getting underway in Tiananmen Square. I spent several days in the middle of the demonstrations and, as I had a professional tape recorder with me, I made another documentary!

I arrived in Shanghai a few days later than planned but managed to attend the festival. Radio Shanghai also offered me the chance to produce programmes for them. I returned to Beijing the night before the ‘event’ on 4th June 1989 and experienced a very surreal few days in Beijing before getting on a British Embassy emergency-chartered flight to Hong Kong.  I phoned the chairman of DHL in London and he agreed to sponsor a weekly ‘Hello From Britain’ programme recorded in Scotland and delivered by DHL to radio Shanghai where they dubbed a Chinese translation on to my English words. We had many thousands of letters in the first week, after many years being cut off from the outside world the people loved it!

I found a Chinese student in Inverness and recorded a sample ‘Nescafé Music Time’ programme in Chinese and sent it to Nestlé in Hong Kong together with a proposal for two one-hour programmes each week on radio Shanghai.

While I was on air with the morning show on Moray Firth Radio a few days later, I received a telex saying they would support a six month experiment on condition that I moved to Shanghai and produced the programmes at Radio Shanghai.  Here are some photos of that time: Photos of China

In the summer of 1990 I moved to Shanghai and became a mega star! The next few years were a true rollercoaster. I employed several ex-staff of Moray Firth Radio and registered a company, 'Window Communications Ltd'. Nescafé let me expand the programmes into 14 cities reaching a potential weekly audience of 400 million. DHL expanded their sponsorship into Beijing and one other city and Sony sponsored a programme in Shanghai.

In my third year in China we were making $1.3 million per year, much of it in non-convertible currency but that is another story. In 1996 I expanded operations into Vietnam and Mongolia.

At the end of 1998 there was an Asian economic crisis and we lost 95% of the contracts. I was actually delighted. I had had enough of living in the Wild West - East and returned home to Scotland where DHL continued to sponsor the original Shanghai programme for another three years.

Soon after returning home, I began a few years in the very well paid world of Foreign Aid. I went to Macedonia and helped set up a daily information radio programme for the Kosovo refugees. This was soon followed by many months living in Kosovo where I helped set up and produce programmes in Albanian and Serbia and worked on the ‘democratisation’ program to promote the first municipal elections in Kosovo.

Then it was off to South Africa for five months to help with production of programmes about work related issues for broadcast on 50 community radio stations throughout South Africa…… each programme had to be made in four different languages! That was followed by several visits to Botswana to help set up a radio drama series looking at health related issues.

Next came visits to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan followed by five trips to Afghanistan. Each trip was for one month and I helped organise and improve two radio stations and worked on a ‘democratisation’ program. I also built a recording studio and two television production suites.  Photos of Afghanistan: here

Nowadays I’m just about retired and live a peaceful life in a man cave near St Andrews in Scotland where I’m attempting to write a book and spend a lot of time taking photographs and shooting and editing video. Please see my website for more details: broadcastingcottage.co.uk and photo gallery of the places I have worked around the world: Gallery 

Finally, I have happy memories of Tunbridge Wells Technical High School for Boys as it was then, and have my prefect badge on the wall in my mancave office. The 60’s were a wonderful period of personal and creative expression and growth.  Happy memories of the school but especially that period of time where things were changing -for the better - almost daily. There was a positive attitude about everything - my first form master was the fantastic Mr Makinson, a real gentleman who really cared about teaching, he taught me and all of us chess and used to flit from desk to desk giving us advice.

In second year it was John Fowle who was I think fresh out of teachers training college; ‘Sparse’ Mr Gardiner (Geography) was great, as was Jim Sutton who had a permanent grin on his face.

My career mostly happened by accident and was greatly influenced by pirate radio but commercial broadcasting has mutated and there are few staff jobs nowadays and anyone truly interested in media or journalism of broadcast engineering needs the BBC. Public service broadcasting is vital to an informed democratic society and the BBC is the only thing on the dial nowadays that isn’t trying to sell you something.

My advice to any students leaving TWGSB:

TRAVEL…… take risks……… step outside of everything you have been brought up with especially western society……… see the real world if only for a while but GO!

Please contact connect@twgsboys.kent.sch.uk if you would like to get in touch with Brian and ask him about his fascinating career or getting into the world of radio. 

If other alumni would like to inspire the next generation, give them ideas of what career fields they could go into, please email in – we always love hearing from our former students and staff!  

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