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Ed Doolan: radio icon, local hero

Ed Doolan: radio icon, local hero

🕔18.Jan 2018

In 1974 an Australian born, former teacher joined the newly launched commercial radio station, BRMB. Tim Rudman, a former head of marketing and events at the station and adviser to several radio companies in the region, writes in tribute. 

Broadcasting to the Greater Birmingham area, it was one the UK’s first commercial stations and finding its way in this new broadcasting world.

For the next forty years this Aussie, initially at BRMB and then from 1982 at the BBC in the Midlands, would be come a constant presence on the region’s airwaves.

Ed Doolan, who died this week at home after a brave battle with dementia, would reshape the way BBC local radio presented local news, issues and consumer rights. It would be replicated later throughout the BBC network of local stations.

During four decades, Ed Doolan would quite simply become an essential listen to anyone who wanted to know what was going on in the region. He would become a Midlands broadcasting legend, local hero for many and a trailblazer.

Although diagnosed with vascular dementia some years ago, Ed continued to broadcast until his death with a weekly pre-recorded show broadcast on his beloved BBC WM.

The illness would prevent him from continuing with his live daily show. But to the end, radio remained his passion as did the opportunity to connect and communicate with his Midlands radio family.

Today’s radio marketplace is now a disparate, fragmented one. Multi-channelled, where listeners dip in and out at will. For today’s new radio presenters it is almost impossible to build a sustained and loyal audience.

But radio was a different animal when Ed started out. When Ed first hit the airwaves on BRMB presenters had the freedom to establish their own on air personality and style.

Ed Doolan had on air personality and style in abundance. And he grabbed the opportunity he had been given to build a radio career with both earphones!

The Midlands radio landscape was unique as for decades it was dominated by three major on air personalities. They owned the airwaves for decades and in their own different ways all three of them would influence and shape radio – not only here in the Midlands, but across the radio industry as they inspired many radio figures who gained a national profile that was not achieved by this talented and unique threesome.

Ed Doolan stood proudly with his two colleagues, rivals and importantly friends Les Ross and Tony Butler. For all three radio was a passion and to be able to communicate with their home audiences always the most important driving ambition.

Ed Doolan found his spiritual home at the BBC. For three decades he became the central plank on which numerous BBC station managers would build their schedules around.

Why was Ed Doolan such a radio icon?

Firstly, he was a constant presence. Forty years on air in one single region. This will never happen again.

Secondly, he loved talk radio and what could be achieved by it if done well and professionally.

Thirdly, although an Aussie by birth, he loved Birmingham and the West Midlands. He cared for and connected with its people. He understood them. They understood him.

When a listener phoned into Ed’s programme with a problem that seemed impossible to solve, Ed would always have the right advice and the contact book with the right person to call. And he knew only too well that solving a problem on air was always a quicker route to success. No organisation wanted the glare of Ed Doolan pinned on them for long.

But for Ed solving listener’s problems was far more than merely a vehicle to generate on air content. Ed genuinely wanted to help. Often he would spend hours off air continuing to battle for listeners rights.

Ed believed it was his duty to hold authority to account. He was never afraid to expose, probe or embarrass the local council, MP, utility company or local retailer if their actions required them to be critised. He was equally happy to take on the local refuge collection manager or the Prime Minister of the day.

Prime Ministers from Mrs Thatcher to David Cameron would always make a visit to Ed’s studio as part of their schedule when visiting the region. They would be happy to appear.

Why? They knew it would be challenging, Ed wouldn’t let them off the hook but they would be treated fairly and with respect. And of course, for any savvy politician they were also keenly aware that an appearance on Ed’s show would mean reaching a big Midlands audience.

Ed was always professional, always meticulously researched and prepared; always ready and willing to go with the flow of a show however unexpected, he always instinctively knew what made good, memorable radio.

It is often used, but not always appropriate, to say “we will never see the like again.” When speaking of Ed Doolan, it is indisputably true.

Tim Rudman is a director of Urban Communications, sister firm to Files publisher RJF Public Affairs. 

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