Unconventional Wisdom

Colin Murray is living proof of the that there's more than one route to success

Radio 1 DJ Colin Murray has loudmouthed on the NI soundwaves for years, but few people know that the Dundonald man began his career with at the Belfast Newsletter. 'I had my first front cover (article) just after my 17th birthday,' he says.

An avid Northern Ireland football fan, Murray chats to me before rushing off to see the Green Army battle the Spaniards. The five minutes he agreed to talk for stretches to 30, as he rambles on in typical Murray fashion: not letting anyone else get a word in sideways.

His route to success has been unconventional. Most people in the media business are university-educated, whereas Murray left school at 16 and worked his way up from the bottom. After a short time spent as a gravedigger, he got the chance to spend a year with the Newsletter via a youth training scheme. This experience, he says, was what helped his start in journalism. 'I've always maintained that qualifications plays little part in this day and age in actually becoming a journalist.'

Another unusual thing about Murray is his working class roots. In an industry where half of all journalists are Oxbridge graduates, his broad Belfast accent and brash manner are reminders that you do not have to come from a middle class background to work in the media. 'There's so much creativity in the working classes, because of the humour they get out of it", he says. 'Creativity is there in abundance, but the money isn't.'

His image as a typical cheeky chappie makes it hard for me to forget that Murray has not always been a radio star. His experiences as a young hack with the Newsletter are in stark contrast with his work as a DJ at Radio 1. 'One of the earliest things that happened was the Shankill bomb,' he says of his time on the paper.

'A year later, we went to do articles based on collaborations between the neighbouring schools, the Roman Catholic school and the Protestant school that Leanne Murray (Shankill bomb victim) went to. It wasn't driven by any education board, it was the kids saying, 'That's our class, that could have been us'. That was quite touching; at nine or ten years old they were taking the initiative to do that.'

From a young age, Murray knew that he wanted to work in the media. He recalls from primary school being asked to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. 'You'd go down the classroom wall, and it was fireman, fireman, nurse, policeman, fireman, another nurse and - journalist.'

He is proof that you are never too young to make it big. Aged 20, Murray created Blank magazine with Ballymena man Paul McNamee, now deputy editor of the Big Issue in Scotland. 'What interests me is young people writing from an early age,' he says. For this reason, he praises the work of award-winning youth organisation Headliners (formerly Children's Express) which trains young people in all aspects of the media.

Murray's entrepeneurial drive and enthusiasm has paid off. Since Blank, he has worked as a columnist for the Daily Mirror, presented Across The Line on BBC Radio Ulster, and taken a coveted DJ post at Radio 1. He scooped Best Media Personality at Fate Magazine's awards in March, and is currently working on a quiz show for Channel 5. With regular appearances on Channel 5's sports coverage, it seems that he is now moving away from radio and into TV presenting. At just 30 years old, Murray is already a veteran in his field.

Despite his insistence that you do not need to go to university to become a successful journalist, Murray admits that it is helpful to have someone encourage you along the way. 'No one ever said to me, 'Well you're quick-witted in class, would you think of going into the media?' Not one person until my teacher said, You're a prat, but you're creative. Be a journalist'.'

He doesn't seem to have needed the advice. Whether he has the approval of others or not, Murray does his own thing. And with television producers beating down a path to his door, it has obviously worked well for him.