Les Ross MBE has been broadcasting for almost as long as local radio has existed.
But after nearly 40 years of ruling the airwaves, he’s about to retire. Again.
“I’ve tried to retire before,” he laughs. “So who knows. But I’ve got nothing as of this moment. Nobody wants me!”
The truth is, Les has never been in the job for money, even when Capital Radio threw it at him after its takeover of BRMB in 1993.
The love affair with radio began with him listening to the seismic pop hits of the 1950s.
When he first retired from BRMB in September, 2002, he’d spent a record-creating 25 years on the breakfast show. No wonder they named a locomotive after him.
Les was so chuffed with the honour, he later bought the loco when it was decommissioned so that he could begin the expensive task of restoring it at Tyseley Railway Museum and using it for charity fund-raising trips.
After BRMB, a two-year stint at Saga FM – where he said he wasn’t allowed to talk over the end of a record, play any rock or even drink coffee in his studio – ended abruptly in December, 2004.
“I was tired of being managed by emails. Saga’s management just seem to want automated robo-jocks,” he said at the time.
“I’ve never spilt coffee in a studio in 30 years and going without it is not funny when you are doing breakfast from 6am.”
BBC WM snapped him up to take him back to where it all began at BBC Birmingham in 1970.
Les started off at weekends for two years, giving him the time to play with his train. But then he couldn’t resist the offer of trying his luck on the weekday afternoon show.
Two years later, he is not part of the station’s latest reshuffle, which from April 6 will see Danny Kelly returning to weekday afternoons and Carl Chinn moving to Sunday mornings to enable Bev Bevan and Jimmy Franks to join forces in the afternoons.
Les says: “When I leave WM for the last time tomorrow, I will probably be more emotional than I will realise.
“I am terribly grateful to radio because it has given me everything. But maybe the afternoon show just hasn’t satisfied me as much as I thought it would.
“I don’t want to be driven just by greed. That’s not enough for me.
“When I turned 60 in February, something just went ‘bedoyng’ and I thought: ‘How long am I going to live?’ I thought WM might offer me a weekend show but they haven’t. I’m not that good!”
Such a self-deprecating view is typical of Les.
An original member of the Radio Academy’s Hall of Fame alongside legends like Tony Hancock, Richard Dimbleby, John Peel and Alistair Cooke, as well as being a holder of the MBE and a triple Sony Award winner, his achievements are the stuff of dreams for every desperate DJ wannabe.
Truth is, Les never wanted any of it for wanting’s sake. His career just happened.
“When I discovered music and radio as a child I just knew I wanted to be a part of it,” he says.
“My first job (after leaving King Edward’s Grammar School in Handsworth with nine O-Levels) was at IBM...and 12 months there bored me rigid.
“I then went to Witton Cemetery, which was Dickensian by comparison. People used fountain pens to put things in the register, but I thoroughly enjoyed that.”
Thanks to winning a 1965 Birmingham Evening Mail DJ competition in which future Radio 2 star Johnny Walker finished second, Les was on the move as a tsar of the turntables, becoming a full-time nightclub hound before BBC Birmingham fell into his lap.
“I got the first job I applied for and then just kept turning up every day,” laughs Les.
“Playing music that I loved... I didn’t need any more. I seem to have bumbled my way through.
“I believe in fate and instinct. But, whenever I’ve gone against my own instinct, it’s always been a mistake. I just have to summon up instinct, because I’m not very confident. There are days when I think: ‘I can’t do this’.”
The first record he ever played at BBC Birmingham looks set to be his last. At BBC WM at any rate.
“It was Cissy Huston (Whitney’s mother) singing I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” says Les. “That’s kind of apt and it might turn out to be the last record I play.”
Knowing Les as I do, though, I wouldn’t bank on it...