ONE of the north west’s most familiar radio voices, Tommy Rosney, is set to celebrate a milestone birthday shortly.
Known to his legion of fans as ‘The Country Boy’, Sligo-born Tommy has been interviewing the stars and championing the work of young artists for over 30 years.
Next month the Highland Radio veteran turns 70, a landmark date on what has been a colourful musical career.
“I came to Letterkenny in 1975 with Best’s which was a forerunner to Dunne’s Stores,” said Tommy.
“I served my time with Mullaney Bros in Sligo which is still going to strong today. Back then you served your time and when my three years were up I took a two week holiday. That’s when the next job came up with Best’s as a sales assistant in the drapery department. Patrick Price, who was drapery department manager, was getting married and I was asked if I would go to Letterkenny and manage things there for two weeks. That was in October 1975 and in November Patrick announced he was leaving to join the army. I was asked if I would like to come up to Donegal and that was it, that was November 1975.”
It was six years later when Tommy first dipped his toe in broadcasting waters.
“I got involved in a local pirate station run by Jerome Keeney and Richard Crowley who has gone on to do big things with RTÉ. They had just started this pirate station and had put out a call for anyone interested in becoming a DJ. I made a demo, they listened to it and and about a month later they brought me in and showed me my mic and my tapes.”
Tommy became a five-times-per-week fixture on what was then Radio Donegal before moving to DCR which broadcast out of Bobby McDaid’s Funland premises on Letterkenny’s Main Street.
Despite being a child of the 60s and 70s who listened to The Beatles, The Stones and the other hit acts of the day, he opted to play mainly country music on his shows. It was a canny move, as history has proven.
“I was doing all country music. Others were doing pop music but I stuck with the country and that is where the name The Country Boy came from, it was just a little tag that has stuck with me.”
It was during his time with DCR that Tommy first encountered a fresh faced young DJ by the name of Shaun Doherty.
“When DCR started we were broadcasting out of a wee studio at the back of George Boal’s. Shaun came in one day and I showed him the ropes. I’ve often told him that it is his claim to fame, that I taught him all he knows.”
The late 1980s saw a crackdown on illegal broadcasting and Tommy had the honour of presenting DCR’s last ever show. Months later and Highland Radio emerged, snapping up many of those who had worked on Donegal’s pirate stations.
As Highland’s reputation as the punchy new voice of the north west grew, so did The Country Boy’s popularity. Artists in Ireland, the UK, the USA and all over the world began to realise that if they wanted to get their name out there then Tommy Rosney was indeed the ‘Boy’ to go to.
“I’ve been to Nashville a good few times and I’ve interviewed a lot of the big names. The last time I was there I interviewed John Schneider of Starsky and Hutch fame.”
Among the other famous names Tommy has rubbed shoulders with have been Vince Gill who is currently touring with The Eagles as well as Randy Travis, Whispering Bill Anderson, Carl Jackson, Josh Hedley, multi-Grammy winner Ray Stevens and the legendary Crystal Gayle. While backstage at the Country Music Awards in 2019 he met Garth Brooks. And that is still only the tip of the iceberg.
Yet despite his tireless appetite to nail the big interviews there are still a couple of people Tommy would love to get in front of the microphone.
“George Strait and Alan Jackson would be two of my top targets. Vince Gill was a big one too and when I got talking to him, he was the nicest person you could hope to meet. Randy Travis was another one. Because of his health his wife Mary does most of the talking for him but it is always great to meet him.
“But out of them all, Alan Jackson and George Strait would be two people I’d love to meet.”
Broadcasting has obviously come a long way since the days of the four-track tapes that were standard in the early days of radio. But Tommy has managed to navigate the shift from tapes to CDs to the technology of today.
“When I started I got into LPs, then CDs. Now it is all MP3s and I can do everything on my laptop. Highland did a course on moving to social media and how they wanted people to be able to see the interviews as well as hear them. So now I use Streamyard and I’ll play the audio first and then put the video up on Facebook.
“I would be fairly tech savvy and if someone shows me how to do it, I’m flying.”
As it did for most industries, Covid hit Highland’s schedule hard. From 7pm onwards the station switched to a jukebox-style broadcast rather than live shows. That meant The Country Boy’s shows being shelved for the best part of two years.
To the delight of his fans though he is back permanently on the airwaves, combining the country classics with newer, more zesty offerings of young artists.
In his 70th year Tommy Rosney has no intention of turning down the volume on his career. His three nightly shows per week on Highland remain incredibly popular as does his Pure Country programme which goes out on Spotlight TV.
Away from the cameras and the mics he enjoys little more than supporting his team Sligo Rovers. More important to him even than that though is his family of wife Margo, son Don, daughters Louise and Anita and grandchildren Odhrán and Croía.
“I’m very content and very happy. I got a new lease of life when the grandchildren came along and it’s great to see my children happy,” he said ahead of his 70th on May 15.
A native of Stoke-on-Trent, Shaun (52) was also Sales and Marketing manager at the station while he worked as...