If places had voices then Blackpool’s would probably sound just like Andy Mitchell.
For more than 23 years the now 52-year-old Blackpool born broadcaster has been delivering the news – and views – on Radio Wave. But his life behind a microphone started much earlier than that.
Like so many presenters and DJs he started in hospital radio.
“A friend of mine said that he was involved in Blackpool’s Radio Victoria.
“I’d already got the bug having been to the Radio 1 Roadshow on Princess Parade in 1978.” he recalls. “We all went down from school and I got a chance to go backstage and look at all the equipment they were using, learned how they got the radio signal back to London using the post office lines slung across the road and I was hooked.”
His dad – former councillor Henry Mitchell – organised some trips around radio stations because of Andy’s interest and via a friend he joined the voluntary team at Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s Radio Victoria aged just 16.
His radio mania even stretched at one time to running his own station from his bedroom.
“Broadcasting to sunny Layton – I think it reached the end of our street,” he says.
His pre Radio Wave days included stints on a virtual A to Z of North West stations and even a spell in Northampton.
His first spell of “pro radio” was at Radio Blackburn (now Radio Lancashire) helping out on a programme called It’s Saturday with Fletcher Richardson and Phil Scott.
“I was basically the runner for the show with a chance to do a bit of continuity,” he says. “I got to say “that was” and “this is” at the end of the programme. I was 17.”
When Red Rose (now Rock FM) opened he met up with local DJ legend Simon Tate doing Saturday Night Out.
“It was my job to go with him along the Golden Mile interviewing anybody and everybody,” he says.
“We’d capture the positive aspect of Blackpool even back then. It was buzzing.”
Everything was recorded on tape then.
“He’d disappear into a booth or an arcade and I’d be outside on the end of the microphone wire,” he says. “We’d get back for 6pm and I’d edit it as it was going out, that taught me a lot, we were always at the last minute. But it was good training, nothing teaches you deadlines like arriving with 10 seconds to spare and three minutes to get the first clip edited.”
His official journalism training came at Preston Polytechnic (now UCLan) but it was station hopping where he honed his craft. Especially on Piccadilly in Manchester.
“They asked if I could do some shifts over Christmas 1986,” says Andy. “I had to phone my mother and tell her I wouldn’t be home for Christmas Day dinner. She said “don’t be silly - get home” I said “no mum” and stayed for the next four years doing all kinds of everything.”
But it was Radio Wave which finally brought him home.
That was almost 24 years ago and apart from founder John Barnett he says he’s “the last man standing.”
“But it was a dream come true. My home town. The thrill of helping open a brand new radio station which was something I’d not done before – amazing.”
He’s clearly proud of his home town. But is Blackpool slipping or rising?
“It’s coming back definitely. Things that we’ve seen improved in the last six or seven years, are things that you are proud of when you show guests round,” he says. “I always think we take a lot for granted because it’s all around us. But when people come up from London and elsewhere and you show them round, you start to subconsciously take on the mantle of being a tour guide.
“Things that you never imagined would be a selling point for the town becomes one. Like the traffic, it’s so busy, but it’s a busy town, you wouldn’t expect the roads to be clear in a town that’s successful.
“So you look at the traffic and the number of people in town, you tell people what’s happening with the Tower, because they ask why’s it got that scaffolding round it, then I feel compelled to drag them into the ballroom to show them that, and the Winter Gardens. And the circus.
“Yes I still get a real sense of pride taking friends onto the stage of the Opera House just to stand there and look out at the auditorium.”
As a one time tram driver (the summer season of 1984 to supplement his radio stints – “everybody worked on the trams if they didn’t work on the deck chairs”) he admires the new ones.
“They are 21st century high tech. They’ve added a sleek line that goes along with everything else that’s been done. If the promenade hadn’t been re-fashioned then trams wouldn’t look right – it’s all part of a package. One had to come with the other.”
“You never know.”
It was an inbred insecurity which drew him to news.
“I’d always been interested and realised that the life of a radio presenter isn’t always great, back then a lot of people were champing at the bit for a few jobs. I’d trained as a journalist so thought I might as well put that to use.”
The former Arnold student is now more involved with Rossall and has been known to “tread the boards” with both establishments. So is broadcasting just part of wider performance?
“I think it is in a kind of way,” he says. “Though with the news I try and be as real as I can. I always say to people when you go on air don’t be yourself, be a version of yourself.”
So does he adopt a radio voice?
“I’ve never been broad Lancashire and people do recognise my voice when I’m out which is a plus and a minus. Being very much rooted in the local community and being proud of the local community you have to be careful of what you say in the local community. You can’t be heard stropping off down the street. Not that I would. Or saying opinionated things to people who are listeners to the radio station. I’ve had that now for nearly 25 years. You do carry that round with you, it is a responsibility.”
So is his sometimes assertive interviewing style more Jeremy Kyle or Jeremy Paxman?
“Neither, it’s me. I don’t see my interviews as being interviews half the time. It’s chats, conversations.
“But where there’s questions need asking it’s my job to them. But the people know that, they know the game. I’m only assertive if I don’t think I’m getting the answer I need, then I’ll keep pressing the point.”
So who is the real Andy Mitchell?
“I always say I don’t have an opinion at all but I shout at the TV like everybody else - but that’s in the confines of my own home. Because of my position I can’t go round voicing my opinions on politics.”
As a self-confessed news junky he even has a radio studio at home.
“If there’s a council meeting on a Wednesday night it’s always on the screen in the studio and I have to duck in an out and promise my other half I won’t be long.”
Thankfully his other half – Nick Entwistle – understands.
They first met in 1984 and have been together for seven years.
“There’s no pressure at all, I’ve got the right partner in Nick, he knows the gig, he’s very supportive, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.
“I’m a real worrier and find it very hard to relax. Nick is a very calming influence, he sees things from a very different perspective.”
A lonely childhood?
“I don’t think so. I spent a lot of time on my own crafting what I wanted to do because by its very nature broadcasting is a thing you do on your own.
“I’m very lucky, extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in, given the job which is born out of my hobby in the town I was born in and still love to live in.
“I’ve been a constant for more than 23 years, I’ve seen a lot happen in Blackpool in that time. It’s a generation and I’m just so proud to be still a part of it. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else even if it is a performance. The whole town is a performance but the very best of one. The show must go on.
“You look at some of the bad things that are said about the town and it’s akin to going in front of the curtain and saying, look this is what’s happening backstage and showing the audience all your dirty washing.
“There’s a need to show people issues but where those issues start taking centre stage and going further you have to worry about whether the image of the town is then tainted and I don’t like that, I don’t like it one bit.”