Is Tony Dibbin the most voice tracked radio presenter around?

Published on 12 December 2022 in

Radio presenter on Radio Commonwealth in Austrlia
Chief Australian announcer Sergeant Kevin Joseph O’Donnell in the caravan broadcasting studio of ‘Radio Commonwealth’, located on the truce line in Korea.

For a very long time, I’ve been rather obsessed with radio.  As a child I used an old cassette recorder to create my own radio shows.  At university I got involved with the student radio station and presented some shows.  And for a while I dreamed of working in radio.

It never happened, even if I did end up working in broadcasting.  Well, digital products for a broadcaster. And in many ways it probably worked out for the best.  Radio is not the industry it was when I left university in 1999.  Then there were scores of local and regional stations, covering the UK.  Now most of them are a shadow of what they were.  Local brands have gone, replaced by national ones like Smooth, Capital, Greatest Hits Radio.  Local presenters have mostly been axed, bar a few token shows broadcast to fulfil regulatory requirements.  Independent stations and small radio groups have mostly been purchased by the big groups.  The number of truly stand-alone commercial radio stations – independent or otherwise – is now incredibly small.

It’s not just ownership that’s changed.  The technology has changed too.  Thirty years ago, the majority of radio shows would be presented live.  Someone sat in a studio, playing out music, talking between the records.  Even overnight.  Some of radio’s biggest names had their break hosting the graveyard shift on local radio.  Scott Mills presented 1-6am on Power FM for example. 

And then came a major change.  Voicetracking allowed a presenter to record a batch of links, upload them to a computer, and the computer would play them out in the right place between the records.  Suddenly you didn’t need a presenter sat in a studio for hours on end.  In fact you don’t even need a central studio if the presenter has their own. Your presenter can rattle off some links for your show, upload them to the server, and that’s multiple hours of programming done.

Voicetracking can be used to allow a station’s star presenters have shows on weekends as well as the week.  It can be used to have the same presenter on multiple stations at the same time, whilst maintaining the ability to target content to a specific area.  And it can be used to cut costs.

Whilst the bigger stations – during daytime at least – still broadcast live, some smaller radio stations and radio groups use voice tracking extensively.  One example is Nation Broadcasting, a small group mostly of stations broadcasting in Wales, but with stations dotted around England and central Scotland.  Since the Covid-19 pandemic most of their output has changed to being voicetracked with links recorded in “private studios” (aka a studio in the presenter’s home), usually many links recorded close to broadcast. 

They have a variety of presenters, some of whom appear on multiple stations.  For example, as I write Lee Jukes presents breakfast on Bridge FM, Radio Pembrokeshire and Radio Carmarthenshire between 6 and 11am.  He’s also listed as the afternoon host of Nation Radio Wales, between 1 and 4pm. That’s just what he does during the week.  At weekend you’ll find him on Bridge/Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire between 8am and noon, and Nation Radio Wales for another four hours on both Saturday afternoons. Clearly Lee’s not sat in a studio between 6am and 4pm. Some of the links will be recorded in advance.

That’s just Lee.  There’s also Simon Grundy who is presenting weekdays a five hour breakfast show on 6-11am on Sun FM. He may be based in Sunderland but Simon also turns up for 10 hours of weekend broadcasting at Bridge/Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire.  His Sun FM colleague Tim West not only does 28 hours of shows on the station in Sunderland, but also 20 hours on Bridge/Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire as well. 

Crikey do they sweat some of their presenters at Nation Broadcasting.

(By the way, Tim West also turns up on York based station YO1, presenting weekend breakfast, adding another six hours to his total.)

But that’s nothing compared to another of Nation’s rostra.  Step forward Tony Dibbin.

Tony’s an old radio hand. He was once host of the Gold radio breakfast show.  Now he’s got to be one of the most voicetracked presenters in the country.  For Nation Broadcasting Tony presents a number of shows from his house somewhere in the South East of England.

For starters he’s the drivetime presenter for South Wales, on Bridge/Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire between 3 and 7, with twenty hours a week.

He also presents the afternoon show on Nation Radio UK, running 1-4pm. That’s 15 hours. For Nation Radio UK, he also presents two five hour shows at weekend.

In total that’s 45 hours of radio with Tony’s name next to it.

But that’s not all, as he can also be found on another of Nation’s stations, namely Easy Radio UK. Monday to Fridays he does 10-1 (that’s another 15 hours.) And the Saturday breakfast show – another four hours.

64 hour hours of radio shows. All voicetracked from his house.

How much radio can one man do, you may wonder? Well Tony doesn’t just work for Nation Broadcasting.  Tony also works for Bauer on a couple of their stations.  There’s 1-6am Saturday and Sunday mornings on Greatest Hits Radio (74 hours) and you’ll also find him 10am-1pm, five days a week on Absolute 70s.  That’s 89 hours of radio shows under Tony’s name a week. Some of them being broadcast at the same time. If you’re a real Tony Dibbin fan, you could basically listen to him between 10am and 7pm simply by changing the station every now and then.

You’d think that would be enough for him. But you’ll also find Tony on Real 104 with Tony Dibbin’s Big Drive Home.  That’s three hours a day, five days a week for a station in New Zealand.  You can travel across the world and still not escape Dibbin. And according to his website, he can also be found on the onboard radio for P&O Cruises.

So that’s 104 hours of Tony a week. At least.  If you had the means, you could listen to a Tony show pretty much every waking hour of the day.  There’s possibly another presenter who does even more than Tony.  But I haven’t found them yet. Can you imagine the chaos that would happen in radio stations if Tony ever took a holiday? (I’m not saying I’m spying on him, but for a few months I have been looking at radio schedules in order to research this piece and I’ve never seen him take a day off. Perhaps he does, and just pre-records all his shows in advance as well.)

Tony’s presumably very good at his job.  And I’m sure he works very hard.  Obviously he isn’t behind the mic all the time for everyone of his shows – he’ll create his links in a batch, upload them to a computer. It’s likely he can rattle off a three hour show in far less than an hour. And he’s presumably delivering exactly what his clients want him to do and doing it well.  Voicetracking’s no doubt helping the finances of smaller stations, keeping them on air. 

But equally I can’t help but think that local radio should have some element of localness.  And that radio stations really shouldn’t need to be reliant on a handful of of presenters. Is a station serving Pembrokeshire that has shows broadcast from Sunderland and London, a shining example of local radio, doing the best thing for its audience?  Is a station in New Zealand providing the best content it can if it’s drivetime show is coming from the UK?

Perhaps all these station would die otherwise. But then if a radio station is only feasible by having a small number of people churning out pre-recorded links en-masse, perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel.