Rob Leighton

Rob Leighton (RIP)

 Interview by Roland Beaney.

Where and when were you born?  

In Devon in 1956.

Where do you live now?  

Just outside Eccleshall in Staffordshire.

What is your favourite part of the country?  

This is a difficult one as there are so many beautiful areas in Britain, both industrial and rural. If I had a shortlist, though, it would certainly include North Wales.

How did you get involved in radio? 

 It was a combination of an interest in electronics and a love of music. It really gelled when I was aged 13 and playing with a big Marconi valve radio set my father had give me that summer. I came across Radio Northsea Internationalís short wave transmissions, and from that point on I was hooked.

Why do you call your programme Imagination? 

Well initially Imagination wasnít a programme, but a radio station. The station needed a name, and Imagination was chosen as a derivative of John Lennonís wonderful song title Imagine. The phrase ĎWe are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreamsí was taken from ĎOdeí by Arthur OíShaughnessy and chosen by my wife.

Could you tell us about your thirst for new and rare music?

 I was aware that, if in the future I wanted to look back on this period of my life in the same way as I now look back on the 1970s (for example), it would be necessary to lay down a memory bed of new songs to support those emotions and experiences that are occurring now. These are the moments that I will cherish in twenty years time, and in the future todayís new music will act as a gateway to those memories. The amount of pleasure I get from listening to any particular new song tends to peak around the fourth or fifth time of listening. Too early and itís still strange territory, and too late and itís getting stale. For me, that musical Nirvana lays between the two. This assumes that the song has what it takes Ė of course, some will never make it! The trick is to pass on that pleasure to the listener whilst having as much fun as possible, which is what itís all about. By concentrating on two or three tracks from a new album I hope from time to time to despatch every Imagination listener to their own personal musical Nirvana.

What other radio stations have you been involved with?  

If I disregard the boyhood fun I had with a beam tetrode when I was fifteen, my first proper foray into the radio world was with London Music Radio (LMR) in the late 70s. In May 1981 I took a summer job on the Mediterranean aboard the Peace Ship where I put my electronics knowledge to use as an engineer. In September 1994 I ran an RSL in Stafford under the name of Stafford Broadcasting Society. This was great fun, as it was 25% speech output and involved meeting and managing a huge number of people. In October 1999 Imagination Radio took to the air on 6010 kHz each Friday evening using a 250kW transmitter in Cumbria. I was really bitten by the radio bug by that stage, and I joined Caroline in October 2000 when my contract with Merlin expired. Imagination Radio became the Imagination Show, and I think you know the rest.

What are your earliest memories of Caroline? 

My earliest memory of Caroline was in 1973, after I had saved my pocket money for months and bought a Grundig TR600 portable transistor radio. I was living near Helston in Cornwall at the time, and reception was pretty dire! I left home at 17 in 1974 and moved to Sussex where I found both the reception and Carolineís changed music style very much to my liking.

What is your favourite radio station other than Caroline? 

 I am a class A radio amateur and a short wave listener so there are certainly plenty to choose from, but head and shoulders above the rest is BBC Radio 4.

Whatís the best and worse thing about radio today? 

The worst thing about radio today is that, in the search for maximum profits, almost every broadcaster has dropped its programme standards to the lowest common denominator; it treats us as if we are donkeys. The best thing is the new and evolving regulatory framework that enables stations like us to get on air and reach a worldwide audience with such excellent fidelity.

Have you any embarrassing or funny moments to share with us? 

At LMR in the late 1970s it must have been self preservation that kept my record clean. I was always very nervous when I stood in the vicinity of an operating transmitter, and from time to time the other guys took advantage of me by yelling ďRAID! RAID!Ē to get a laugh at my expense. One summer evening in 1979 I was sitting in a Bromley beer garden with Richard Thompson and Cliff Osborne, and we started drawing up my personal top 30 album tracks. When it was finished Richard thought it was so good it ought to go out to the Mi Amigo with him and be played one Sunday evening. I didnít want to use my full name, and I couldnít use my DJ name or listeners would think Richard was only playing his friendís top 30s. We didnít really decide on which name would be used, so when it was featured a few weeks later I listened with interest. My edgy disposition had led some bright spark to christen me ĎRob Stainesí for the night! I still have the show on cassette somewhere.

What do you do for relaxation?  


What is your favourite food?  

I love Indian food, and in particular Chicken Assami.

What do you dislike doing the most?  

Household chores.

What are your favourite bands or groups? 

Thatís impossible to answer. It would be just as likely to be the [Thomas] Tallis Scholars or some Welsh Male Voice Choir as it would be a Rock Band. Whatever it is, itís better LIVE!

What are your top 5 favourite tunes?  

Thatís almost impossible to answer too, as they will change with the passage of time. A list for today would include The Sheepstealers by The Voice Squad, Rutterís Requiem, and probably something from one of the present day progressive bands.

When did you last go on board the Ross?  

During the 1278 kHz RSL in August 2004.

What plans have you for the future?  

I donít know how to answer this question, as there is nothing in particular that I want and donít already have. That doesnít mean Iím loaded, it just means I know the difference between need and want. I have a lovely cottage and a lovely wife, a lovely couple of cats, and a dog who is lovely most of the time. I think I will be content to follow the advice of Strangefish in Fortune Telling, and remain Ė Happy As I Am!

Sadly Rob has passed away. Rob will always be remembered for his shows on Caroline bringing us his own special style of music on Thursday nights and his excellent breakfast shows on Friday mornings.

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