BBC’s Linda McAuley: ‘I fell into broadcasting by accident’

Linda McAuley
Linda McAuley
  • BBC Radio Ulster’s Linda McAuley may be more heard than seen, but the unassailable broadcaster has been in the spotlight recently. She talks to HELEN McGURK about her MBE and being inducted into the IMRO Radio Hall of Fame.

There are radio voices that become like family you listen to them so often – they are household sounds – and, as with family, you are inescapably involved.

Linda McAuley, the broadcaster par excellence, has one of those voices; attractive, reassuring and familiar.

Linda with her younger siblings

Linda with her younger siblings

Fronting Radio Ulster’s popular On Your Behalf programme, this champion for consumer rights has the knack of making listeners feel like she is just on the other side of the table chatting.

Listening to Bangor-born Linda we know we are in safe hands.

She comes across as authoritative and unflappable - in comforting contrast to the often complex and frustrating consumer issues she is tackling.

In person she is equally poised, that beautiful, melodious, unhurried speaking voice, instantly recognisable.

Linda with her mother Carole McAuley and husband, Paul Wilson

Linda with her mother Carole McAuley and husband, Paul Wilson

Indeed, hers is a voice that is often identified when she’s out and about.

“I was standing in a car park talking on my mobile phone and a woman said ‘I know your voice, are you Linda?’ That happens all the time,” she laughs.

“There was one person who told me I sounded blonde on the radio and at a family funeral a woman came across the aisle to say that I sounded taller on the radio. But people generally meet me and say ‘you don’t look how you sound - I expected somebody different’- so I don’t know what that means,” she laughs.

She is not blonde, but dark, her cropped hair flecked with silver, and she’s snappily dressed - her fashion sense undoubtedly inherited from her mother Carole, a former model and fashion agent.

“I have always felt that if you are representing the BBC you should dress well, whether you are on radio or whatever you are doing,” she says when I compliment her chic outfit.

Linda and the popular Saturday morning consumer affairs show On Your Behalf have brought about real changes in the real lives of BBC Radio Ulster’s listeners, from industry wide initiatives to standardised travel insurance terms for those booking flights in Belfast but leaving from Dublin to forcing big name retailers to adopt a more transparent and fair approach to online services and deliveries to Northern Ireland residents.

And her efforts have not gone unrecognised.

In September she was inducted into the IMRO Radio Hall of Fame, taking her place alongside other radio luminaries such as Gerry Anderson and Gay Bryne, then just this month she was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List for Services to Consumers in Northern Ireland.

She said: “It has been an incredible year and this (the MBE) is just the icing on the cake.

“It’s not only a tremendous honour for me personally, it’s an acknowledgment of the trust that On Your Behalf has built up with the public over 22 years, and the working relationship the programme has with organisations such as Trading Standards, the Consumer Council and the Financial Ombudsman. And, in these difficult times, the help and support given to listeners by Jimmy Hughes, Eileen Evason, CAB and Advice NI.”

Linda may now be a broadcasting icon, but growing up she confesses she didn’t have a grand plan for a career in the industry.

“I fell into broadcasting my mistake.

“It was the mid-70s. There was no such thing as a degree in Media Studies, I just wanted to be out working with people. I always really enjoyed talking to people, integrating and interacting with people.

“Then in 1976 when Downtown came into being, I got a job working in the record library and then in the newsroom - but it was just chance.’’

As she explains, the journalist who usually read the dog and horse racing results was tied up with a big story, so Linda was asked it she would step in and read them.

“I was a bit anxious about it because some of those horses and dogs have some very odd names,’’she says, but she read the results and did it with such aplomb, that she was asked to read the news.

“I really enjoyed being the in the newsroom - the activity and the atmosphere and the urgency of it. You had to react and think quickly.’’

Then in 1978 she got a phonecall from the BBC, from senior producers in Radio Ulster asking her if she would like to go and work there, which she did, and just “learnt as she went along”, but says she never felt nervous on the air.

“I have always been comfortable behind a microphone - I like broadcasting . I have always loved radio.”

Initially at the BBC she was the presenter of the evening drive time programme Change Gear and returned in 1989 to present Morning Extra.

In 1995, she helped launch On Your Behalf.

The show, which blends consumer advice, information and education with robust confrontation of unfair trading, is put together by a very small team, Linda, one producer and one production assistant - and there’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to create the programmes.

“I go out around Northern Ireland to interview people, then we have to talk to the company and get statements. It just doesn’t turn around - we make sure that before it goes on air, everyone’s had the right of reply, so it is very balanced.”

And she is fiercely proud of the programme.

“On Your Behalf is what matters to people - it’s not just about a consumer issue, it’s about what helps and what changes people’s lives.”

*Linda McAuley presents On Your Behalf on Saturdays at 9.45am on BBC Radio Ulster.