In The Spotlight With John Foster
In the latest edition of Tilly Bailey & Irvine’s In The Spotlight feature, we get the insight from one of the North East’s much-loved voices of radio. John Foster, formerly of BBC, TFM, Sunderland AFC and more gives us his story….
John Foster Voice
Tell us about your role:
After working in radio and the media for nearly 30 years, I’ve now gone freelance using my skills in Voiceover, Radio presentation, Event Hosting and Media Training
Tell us your career journey:
Growing up in Middlesbrough in the mid-80’s, my parents got me a clock/alarm radio for a birthday present and I was hooked on radio from that moment onwards. I remember listening to Radio Tees and people like Graham Robb, John Simons, Roger Lewis and Alex Lester and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I got a Saturday job at BBC Radio Cleveland on the sports programme and then progressed to sending tapes out to stations asking for a job and got a whole load of rejections back. I persevered and one day I got a phone call from Brian Lister, the boss at TFM, asking me in for a chat. October 6, 1990 was the first time I presented a professional radio show. I can’t begin to tell you what a thrill it was to sit in the converted waterboard building on Dovecot Street in Stockton where all my heroes had broadcast from, knowing it was my turn!
I’ve been in radio for nearly 30 years now working around the North East including presenting my dream job - the breakfast show on 96.6 TFM - and on other stations like BBC Radio 5 Live/BBC Tees/Magic 1152/Great North Radio/ Sun.City 103.4 and before that in Yorkshire hosting breakfast & afternoon shows. At BBC Tees, whenever a big story broke, I was on the air.
Steelworks closing, football clubs on the brink and many other things. It was such a pleasure and honour as a local person to have shared those moments with the listener. I’ve dabbled in TV and press too and since setting up myself, I’ve been doing some media training at various universities near to where we live. Voiceover work is varied and interesting with my voice heard in many areas, and probably the most exotic so far is the voice of an online Loan Butler in America’s mid-west.
My wife, Anna, is a presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live and we had to move closer to the studios in Salford and after nearly three years of commuting 200 miles a day back to Middlesbrough, I couldn't carry on.
What have been the biggest challenges in your career?
The knockbacks. I have a huge folder of rejection letters from various radio stations in the UK. It is a real wake-up call, but you just have to get up, dust yourself down and start again.
What are your biggest achievements?
From the moment I wanted to be on the radio. Whether presenting from TFM in Dovecot Street, presenting the breakfast show at TFM, work for the BBC or present on national radio.
I was the start voice for The Great North Run, matchday announcer for Sunderland AFC for nearly 20 years, host for the massive Party In The Park concerts on Stockton’s Riverside and many others.
The job has also given me the chance to meet my heroes, celebrities and people you could pass in the street but who have amazing stories to tell. It’s been quite a ride. Seasons In The Sun is something I’m very proud of alongside being repeated around the world for my cameo performance in ‘Top Gear’ when it came to Middlesbrough!
What did you want to be when you were at school?
A footballer…. most boys at Boynton School in Middlesbrough did. When the Boro team trained on the school field back in the dark days of 86-88, we got the afternoon off Geography to watch them.
What was your first job?
A Saturday job at BBC Radio Cleveland helping out on the sports programme and learning some brilliant craft from people like John Allard and Stan Laundon. Tricks of the trade that still work today.
If you could have an alternative job, what would it be?
Before we had kids, I was learning to fly at Durham Tees Valley. Dale Reynolds is the most amazing instructor and I loved it. Not so much the stalls practice, though!
What did you love most about working in the North East?
Being a part of that community. When the listener got in touch, you knew where they were, what was down that street, what interests they had and where they went for it. When the chips were down, you felt the same as the listener.
What did you love most about living in the North East?
The extended family being nearby. We lived in Stockton and you took for granted being 20 minutes from the countryside or the coast. It’s only when you step out of it you realise how lucky we were to live in that part of the world.
What do you do in your down time?
With two young kids who are into football, dancing etc. I have turned into dad’s taxi a little. I wouldn’t change it at all. We live in Calderdale now - think ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ - so we are very spoilt with the countryside and loads of things to do and, even though we have been here for four years, we are still finding loads to do.
What’s your number one piece of advice for anyone in business?
If someone makes an enquiry to your business, have the decency to respond to them. It’s been quite staggering how many don’t acknowledge a professional person. Even if it’s a ‘no’, that person would rather know.
Manage the talent. No two people are the same, so suss them out to get the best out of them. There are various tricks to use and they are all free.
“He sat in a soundproof box five days a week for nearly three decades and talked to himself for hours on end….. he must’ve been mad but he was a nice guy!”
John Foster was born in Middlesbrough and became one of the best-known voices in a career that spanned some of the biggest radio shows and events in the area for the past 20 years. He now lives with his wife, BBC 5 Live presenter Anna, and their two children in Calderdale, West Yorkshire. More information at: www.johnfostervoice.com