Tributes to ‘genius of radio’

Rod Webster was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.
Rod Webster was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

Rod Webster, the founding managing director of Radio Borders, died shortly before Christmas at the age of 69.

He was recognised as a highly successful radio executive who delivered high ratings, major awards and commercial success at a string of stations.

As an inspirational manager, commercially-savvy salesman and talented broadcaster, Rod was ideally suited to the world of independent local radio.

He helped set up Moray Firth Radio in Inverness and also served as managing director at Northsound in Aberdeen and as head of training for Scottish Radio Holdings.

But his greatest achievements arguably came at Radio Borders, which celebrates 25 years on air this month.

Rod set up the station from scratch and led it to instant success. The first set of ratings showed 68 per cent of potential listeners tuning in – a record audience reach for any UK radio station that stands to this day.

In 1991, after just over a year on air, Radio Borders was named UK Local Station of the Year at the Sony Radio Awards. With typical flamboyance, Rod persuaded a sponsor, Kleenex tissues, to pay for all the station’s staff and even some part-time, weekend presenters to travel to London for the ceremony.

“Rod was a great innovator and mentor, a commercial radio genius,” said Danny Gallagher, the first Radio Borders breakfast presenter who succeeded Rod as managing director and also went on to run Moray Firth Radio.

Rod lived in Galashiels with his family while he ran Radio Borders.

He started his broadcasting career while serving in Intelligence in the Royal Air Force in Germany. In 1979, he was part of a group of local business people who applied successfully for the local radio licence for the Moray Firth area and took the lead in drawing up a business plan and shaping the programme schedule. He then served as head of sales, commercial producer and weekend presenter at the station.

During his time there, Moray Firth Radio delivered more revenue per head of population than any other station in the UK.

He moved to set up Radio Borders in 1989, taking charge of everything from finding a home for the station to recruiting all staff.

In addition to the 1991 Sony win, the station was also nominated twice more for awards at the UK radio industry’s Oscars while Rod was in charge.

He told a television journalist reporting on the station’s success: “Localness is the key to the success of local commercial radio. Based in the area, broadcasting solely to them for them, it’s something the listeners clearly appreciate.” In 1997, he took over as managing director at Northsound in Aberdeen and revitalised the company’s two stations, boosting both audience figures and financial performance.

Rod was promoted by Scottish Radio Holdings to head up group training, developing and implementing programmes to improve the skills of managers, sales staff, journalists and presenters.

After retiring from SRH, he ran his own business in the recruitment sector and maintained a strong interest in radio, working as a consultant.

Rod was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, but maintained his great good humour and lust for life, travelling widely with his beloved wife Anne and spending time with their family and many friends.

Rod is survived by Anne, a close partner in all their endeavours who was also a key member of the Radio Borders staff, by their three children, Sharon, Stuart and Colin and by 10 grandchildren.