My Cultural Life: Carolyn Stewart

The radio presenter on discovering Amy Winehouse, busking with Brian Kennedy and getting the name right

When did you fall in love with music?
Music has been with me for as long as I can remember, right from the point when I made a cameo appearance singing and dancing at my mother’s girly nights in.

How did you become involved in radio?
I worked in the record distributors, Solomon & Peres and got to know an old music stalwart called Jackie Flavelle. Jackie would come in to buy the latest tunes; he heard my demo and encouraged me to send it to Downtown Radio. Timing is everything – as my demo arrived at Downtown, discussions were taking place in the boardroom about split frequency and a new sister station. That sister station was Cool FM and the rest as they say is history.

I was the original afternoon presenter with Cool FM and went on to work on many shows including the hugely successful Cool Goes Quiet, later to become Lights Out, which at that point was drawing more listeners than the breakfast show, supposedly the biggest show of the day!

I stayed with Cool FM until 2005 when I was offered a position at the new UTV owned radio station U105. At U105 I created a social club on air. We called it the nest and referred to listeners as nightbirds. People would check in every evening from 9pm, many using handles reminiscent of the CB radio days. On several occasions we invited a select number of nightbirds into the UTV studios at night and broadcast the show live with an audience, great fun.

I looked after the Nest for three years and then I was offered the afternoon show. There is so much potential to create a social club here also and that is how I see the show: a place where people can hang out, listen to music and have great craic. As far as I’m concerned it must be fun to do and fun to listen to.

What are the highs and lows of presenting live radio?
There are no lows, it’s the most fun and exciting job in the world.

Do you get out and about much to see live music in Belfast and beyond?
I absolutely adore live music, especially the thrill of experiencing first hand a star who is about to be born or a living legend. An 18-year old unknown Amy Winehouse with guitar in hand playing live for me in studio is one such moment, as is a young man called NE-YO chatting to people and handing out 4 track CD’s to an audience before he did warm up for Faith Evans in the House of Blues in Las Vegas.

As far as living legends go, Annie Lennox, Jay-Z, Aretha Franklin and Santana all live up to the hype, they all met my expectations. If I were asked to pick my favourite performers of today, I would say without doubt go check out Pink and Angie Stone.

If you could interview any musician from throughout history, who would it be?
Billie Holiday - nuff said.

Who is your radio hero?
Radio hero? Not really, but there are many that I admire, including our very own Candy Devine.

If you could have three cultural figures from throughout history round for dinner, who would they be?
Barack Obama – I feel like he’s a kindred spirit. Bob Marley – where did those lyrics come from? Whoopi Goldberg – genuinely funny, even her face makes me laugh.

Which cultural event did you most enjoy in the past few months?
The latest Martin Lynch play, The Chronicles of Long Kesh.

Which cultural event are you most looking forward to?
I’ve been a big fan of Brian Kennedy since I interviewed him while he busked in Pottinger’s Entry in Belfast city centre for SUS on UTV in 1993. Having worked nights both on radio and in clubs for many years, I have missed many of his performances so I’m looking forward to his 20th anniversary tour coming up.

If you could give advice to the struggling young radio devotee, what would it be?
If you are not passionate about radio broadcasting, forget it. Just wanting to be famous will not cut the mustard.

If you could write your own epitaph in no more than 10 words, what would it be?
That’s Carolyn, not Caroline!

Lee Henry

Carolyn Stewart's U105 afternoon show is broadcast from 12-3pm Monday to Friday, 105.8 MHz, and her The Original Saturday Night Fever show is from 6-10pm every Saturday.