BBC’s man files last piece
Willie retires after 35 years with broadcaster
The region’s airwaves just won’t be the same any more after veteran BBC journalist Willie Johnston unplugged his mic for the final time on Friday.
It was a poignant moment for Willie – also a familiar face on TV’s Reporting Scotland – and it coincided with the opening of new BBC regional offices at Palmerston Arena, Dumfries.
Willie’s last day at work was one of mixed feelings – and brought more than 35 years of service with the national broadcaster to an end.
He said: “I have no great plans except to take it easy. There are three grandchildren to spend time with, a big garden to look after and places to go.
“I will miss some aspects of the job and will certainly miss some great colleagues. I have been very lucky that way. We’ll just see what the future holds.”
After a successful traineeship, Annan man Willie became a reporter with the Dumfries and Galloway Standard in 1977.
But a phone call in 1983 from the producer setting set up the BBC’s new community radio service, Radio Solway, changed everything. Willie said: “At the Standard I did much of its sports coverage, including, of course, reporting on the mighty Queen of the South. I was that proverbial fan with a typewriter.
“Could I do sports previews on Fridays and results roundups on Mondays for the Solway Report morning news programme, I was asked.
“I said yes and because, for some bizarre reason, Radio Solway opened on a Friday, I was on the first broadcast from the BBC’s shiny new Elmbank studio in Lovers Walk.”
Unforgettable moments have peppered Willie’s career.
The 60-year-old said: “My main focus was news and stories didn’t come any bigger than December 21, 1988. I was about to go for pre-Christmas drinks courtesy of Gretna FC when, just after 7pm, the phone rang.
“A former newspaper colleague who lives near Lockerbie had seen a huge fireball. Something big had happened.
“Instantly, my plans changed. I jumped in the car, collected equipment I thought I might need from the studio and headed to Lockerbie.
“When I got there at eight I’d heard a rumour that a military plane had crashed.
“The utter chaos and apparent huge scale of the damage suggested otherwise but, even so, when someone said it was actually a Pan Am jumbo the reality was hard to process.
“I can still see the fires, smell the smoke, taste the aviation fuel.”
Willie’s role changed in 1993 when Radio Scotland dispensed with community stations and he became TV and radio reporter for the region.
Big stories included the Solway Harvester tragedy and the devastatating 2001 footand-mouth outbreak.
Overseas assignments followed – to far-flung places such as the USA, Poland, Romania, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
And latterly colleagues nicknamed Willie “gallus grandpa” for his daring exploits involving everything from zipwires to a human catapult.
He said: “I survived these adventures and lived to tell the tales – but now I have reached the last. For the past 35 and a half years it has been my privilege to be the BBC’s man in Dumfries and Galloway.
“But also – and just as important for me – to be Dumfries and Galloway’s man in the BBC.”
Changing of guard Willie is bowing out as local HQ changes
Hanging up headphones The BBC’s Willie Johnston