Belfast Telegraph

Back then: The glorious days of Downtown

By Ivan Little

It was 32 years ago today that this rogue's gallery of famous and lesser known faces was first published. And the question is – how many of them do you recognise?

I'll bet that older readers will be able to put names to quite a few people in the line-up. Because in 1982 they were quite simply the kings and queens of the airwaves in Northern Ireland.

They all worked for Downtown Radio which was the first commercial outlet in the province.

The broadcasters and the backroom workers were assembled in the Downtown car park at Kiltonga just outside Newtownards for a team picture to support another winning team of the time – Northern Ireland's international football squad.

The advertisement was used on the back page of a booklet which I helped to produce for the footballers in the run up to the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain.

So who's who?

Well in the front from left to right you have Paul Acheson, who still runs sports schools here; Michael 'Hendi' Henderson, who was one of the busiest DJs on the circuit; Jackie Flavelle, formerly a member of Chris Barber's jazz band and Davy Sims, now a communications consultant.

Behind them are Ronan Kelly, who went on to present the news on UTV; John Rosborough, who later helped launch Citybeat and U105 and Ivan Martin who still pops up on U105 but is also a busy sports writer.

Ivan's old sparring partner Richard Young is the man in the shades and just along the way is Candy Devine, one of the first presenters on Downtown who only recently left to go home to Australia.

BBC sports presenter and writer Padraig Coyle is the bearded bloke in the middle and next to him is David Sloan, the former Downtown news editor who became the station's managing director.

The man on the left of the group holding up the Viva Northern Ireland banner at the back is John Paul 'Jippo' Ballantine who presented the station's first programme and nearby is Ken Johnston who worked in the newsroom and who is now in PR.

Another newsman who's still in the business is also on banner-holding duties – Mervyn Jess who's been a stalwart of the BBC's news programmes for years.

Back then, unlike now, the newsroom in Downtown was massive with a huge number of reporters. I was one of a team of four duty news editors for two years until 1980 when I left for pastures new.

But no matter what Downtown achieves in the future, it will always be remembered for its scoop on March 16, 1976, just hours after it first went live.

I was there that day to write a newspaper feature on its first day when word reached Kiltonga that Harold Wilson had resigned as Prime Minister and Downtown broke into their programming with a newsflash.

But my abiding memory of Downtown is the morning that reporter Eamonn Mallie and I realised to our terror that the breakfast presenter hadn't turned up.

We twiddled a few knobs and pushed a few buttons more in hope than in expectation of getting the station on air.

I read a news bulletin but the only way we could be sure anyone could hear me was for Eamonn to run to his car outside and switch on his radio.

He dashed back to tell me I was coming across loud and clear and we stuck on an LP until the sheepish presenter turned up.

A footnote to younger readers – an LP was a record made out of vinyl, a forerunner of the CD and the download.

Singer Johnny wasn't just cashing in on Irish sentimentality

It's widely known that the sentimental old song Forty Shades Of Green was written by the one and only Johnny Cash.

He penned it in 1959 after a visit to Ireland and the song is famous/infamous for its appalling rhyming of sea and Donaghadee which is listed in some lyrics listings as Dunehea.

And why anyone would want to walk from Cork to Larne as Cash suggests is a mystery, or should that be mysterhea!

But if you think that's bad, wait till I tell you about Shamrock Doesn't Grow In California. I kid you not.

I thought retired travel agent David Ingram was pulling my leg when he told me that Cash had written it.

The song includes classic lines like "Your shillelagh is a 45" and "It's the leaf of all the chiefs". But David pleads Cash's defence robustly and says Cash was a regular visitor to Belfast, even during the Troubles.

David got to meet Cash on a number of those trips and says he was a true gentleman who genuinely loved Ireland. Even the shamrocks ...


In my day: We quiz Cathy Martin on the time of her life

What does your job entail?

We manufacture a quarter of the world's commercial airline seats here in Kilkeel so, as you might expect, we have a large team of engineers covering a vast range of specialisms. I'm one of the production engineering team working within our Manufacturing Engineering Department. Together, we are involved in many business improvement projects, where we are constantly reviewing processes, optimising efficiencies and looking for innovative solutions that will make a positive impact on our company's goals to reduce cost, improve quality and exceed customer demands and expectations.

This leads to a lot of project work and I often take on the role of team leader as we look at specific goals or targets to make improvements to the assembly lines or introduce new manufacturing processes.

Is it 9-5?

Sometimes, yes, but when key business improvement projects are online, or are near a critical point, I'm happy to put in the extra hours to get the job done. There's always a great buzz about projects as they near completion and we tend to get carried away and forget about time!

How did you get into this line of work?

Right through St Paul's High School, where I did my GCSEs, and Sacred Heart, where I did my A-levels. I was thinking of teaching as a career, but I got bitten by the engineering bug and emerged from UUJ with my Honours degree in Technology and Design. I was lucky enough to secure a graduate placement in a major manufacturing company, which gave me outstanding experience across quality, design, planning, programming and logistics and, armed with this experience, I decided I most enjoyed working close to production as a manufacturing engineer.

Outline your career to date?

My graduate placement earned me an opening in the same company as a manufacturing engineer. After a year, I was promoted to senior manufacturing engineer and I spent two great and fulfilling years in that role before coming to B/E Aerospace, initially as a manufacturing engineer for six months, but I progressed to my current post as my skills were best suited in this role to help the business move forward.

I've already had some great opportunities in my career and the exciting thing is that there are so many more ahead. In terms of job satisfaction, I love working with other like-minded people and learning from them. Getting the chance to lead project teams to aid production is a brilliant and challenging experience.

Tell us about your qualifications/training.

I have a BSc Hons in Technology and Design, and am a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. When you leave university you tend to think that you're putting formal education behind you – at least for a while – but actually, in engineering, this is when the learning really ramps up. I've been really fortunate to be able to build my CV through Training within Industry (TWI) job instruction and job methods training, covering everything from Lean Processes to Six Sigma Green Belt project management, presentation skills and Electronic Value Stream Mapping ... to name but a few topics!

Ongoing training is a high priority with B/E Aerospace and I am currently involved in our Step Up 2 Programme. This is an ILM level five course which has selected 12 employees who are proactively developed for the next stage in their careers. Over a year, Step Up 2 includes developing your personal goals as well as working on a Business Improvement Project, developing core competencies and business skills. You also have regular meetings with a specially assigned internal and an external coach, who help you with any personal or business improvement action plans. It's a fantastic support system and it's already encouraging me to keep on stretching towards the next goal.

What qualities are required for your job – personal and professional?

You need to be motivated, focused and prepared to work hard both as part of a team and on your own initiative. Engineering is all about problem-solving, so we tend to be proactive, constantly curious people with a thirst for problem solving. Less obviously perhaps, you also need to be a good communicator who is able to influence and encourage people ... and a sense of fun, coupled with a positive attitude, make the day go in better! You are meant to enjoy work after all!

What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?

I think the challenges and rewards are often the same things. Constant change is central to our work and no projects are ever the same. That variety is stimulating, but you do have to be open-minded and able to adapt to regular change.

I enjoy seeing the projects I've been involved in making positive impact on the business and I like working with a variety of people and teams. There's a great atmosphere here in Kilkeel and a good social life too, particularly amongst the younger engineers. Quite a few of us commute and we have good car pooling arrangements, which not only takes the hassle out of travel, but builds friendships too. One of the big benefits of working with B/E Aerospace is the opportunity to travel, especially to our other plants in America.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy keeping fit with running and spin classes. I like to spend time with family and friends ... and love walking with my special four-footed friend, my black Lab, Jack.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I have a keen interest in cars and off-road bikes.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

My parents have always shown dedication, engagement, drive, ambition, integrity, excellence and commitment in everything they have done, setting a great pattern for me in life. As I was growing up, they gave me so many opportunities to develop these core attributes and they have always been behind me in building my career. They taught me to be responsible, trustworthy and give 100% effort into anything I do and I know that trying to emulate my parents will support not only my future career, but will also help me to have a happy and fulfilling life.

Belfast Telegraph


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