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Francis Klonowski CFPTM Chartered FCSI had over 40 years of a portfolio career before the term became fashionable. Running parallel to a career that began in the priesthood, detoured to the hospitality sector and culminated at Klonowski & Co financial planning, was his lifelong ambition to work in radio or journalism – a goal he achieved via his hobby as a hospital radio presenter at Radio Allerton, based at Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds.
“I left school in Sheffield at the age of 11 to attend a Catholic seminary with the intention of becoming a priest, but left around two years before what would have been my ordination. I had already begun my theology degree at Durham University, from which I graduated in 1975, but my interests lay elsewhere. I wanted to go into radio journalism or presenting but couldn’t find a way into it, and eventually decided to stay in catering (a sector I’d worked in during university holidays), moving to Leeds in 1978 to work for a well-known local firm. In 1989 I abandoned all that for a complete career change to financial services, and eventually started my financial planning firm there in 1996.”
Francis’ decision to change career direction was the catalyst for the fulfilment of his lifelong ambition to work in radio. “I saw a snippet in the local paper looking for radio volunteers for Chapel Allerton hospital radio. I met the station’s two founders in September 1989 and I’m still there.”
With no radio production or journalism training, Francis had to quickly pick up some essential skills: “Perhaps the most intricate skill I learnt was to edit a recording on reel-to-reel tape, using splicing tape and a razor blade. I also learnt how to use a portable reel-to-reel recorder and would go out to record interviews, mainly with sports people, eg Howard Kendall, Norman Hunter and others. I’m mostly self-taught, through listening avidly to professional radio presenters, especially my broadcasting heroes Johnnie Walker, Paul Gambaccini and ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris.”
Francis’ big break came when the main presenter was off for a few weeks and he had to do the Friday night slot 7–9pm, following which the slot remained his.
"Perhaps the most intricate skill I learnt was to edit a recording on reel-to-reel tape, using splicing tape and a razor blade"
The first time he had to ‘drive’ a programme he had no warning: “The usual presenter hadn’t turned up, so I quickly selected a few records. About three tunes in, I looked up to see the station chairman waving frantically through the glass, before poking her head and remonstrating with me to ‘think’ before choosing the music. The song was ‘Don’t fear the reaper’. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten!
His slot is named the Album show because Francis feels that there is a lot of good music hidden away on albums that never see the light of day. He has around 600 vinyl albums and 1,100 CDs, and prefers physical copies to downloads. “The music I play is fairly laid-back, especially chosen to help the listeners feel relaxed, bearing in mind their situation. It all seems to go down well.”
Francis has interviewed some famous musicians from previous eras on his show, including former members of the folk band Lindisfarne, which produced big selling albums in the 70s. But the highlight for him was interviewing Bob Harris. “He’s been an inspiration for many years and much of the music I play is by singers and bands I first heard on his shows.”
This year was Radio Allerton’s 40th birthday. “We held an open day in April, with special live programmes and a display of archive material in the hospital foyer. All tracks on my opening programme were from our year of inception, 1978. The Lord Mayor of Leeds attended and I interviewed her live on air, alongside our Honorary President Andrew Edwards of BBC Radio Leeds.”
Some people, of course, might associate hospital radio with Alan Partridge and the Norwich fictional hospital station Radio Smile. Francis, however, prefers a different comic character: “I think the spoof hospital radio DJ Ivan Brackenbury is more appropriate, from early 2000s. Fortunately, the comic character is nothing like reality. We’ve always discouraged applicants who just want to play at being DJs. Some of our former members have gone on to media careers – including Chris Choi (ITN) and Richard Quest (CNN).”
For Francis the feeling that he could be making someone’s stay in hospital a little more bearable runs through his motivation for presenting: “I try to make my presenting as professional as possible, so patients find it indistinguishable from ‘normal’ radio – or perhaps even better. Just because it’s a hobby doesn’t mean it’s amateur.”
This article was first published in the Q3 2018 print edition of The Review. The print edition is available to all members who opt in to receive it, except student members. All eligible members who would like to receive future editions in the post should log in to MyCISI, click on My Account/Communications and set their preference to 'Yes'