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Posted by Louise on 25th October 2018
Maiden Speech from Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, Chair of The Radio Academy - Thursday 18th October 2018, Leeds

Maiden Speech from Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, Chair of The Radio Academy - Thursday 18th October 2018, Leeds


For my maiden speech I’d like to share my ambitions during my term as chair of the Radio Academy, but like King Henry said to his six wives, don’t worry I won’t keep you for long. Firstly though I’d like to share a bit about my background. 

I could start from the very beginning, but don’t worry this is an abridged version of my journey from whence I came to where I am today.



My name is Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE the new Chair of the Radio Academy if 6 months is still new?  I am first and foremost a mother, a grandmother and a wife.  I am also a long-time activist, a campaigner, a change agent in the corporate world, a mentor, a sponsor and a supporter for women and minority owned businesses.  I received my investiture, Commander Of The British Empire, 15 years ago, along with two honorary Doctorates. 

To my friends, I’m Dr Dr. Commander.

I have been in the communications and marketing field for over 43 years running my own PR company for 35 of those years. 

So where does she get this self-belief and confidence?

My parents arrived in London from Guyana back in the 60s accepting the call from the Queen who sent out a message to her Commonwealth citizens to come to England to help rebuild the motherland.  

Thinking there would be a red carpet welcome, they arrived with six confused but excited kids who carried just one suitcase each. 

But my parents carried the heaviest load. That was a back pack of dreams and ambitions for their children. 

We arrived in very different times.

It was a time when there were no laws on hate crimes there wasn’t even the race relations legislation or act. That came a few years after we arrived.

It was still legal to call us the N word.

It was still legal to call us gollywogs – and Robertsons still sold jam.

Love Thy Neighbour which came later was still politically correct!

And you certainly couldn’t hear any minority voices on the radio.  Would I be provocative if I said that not much has changed?

 But the most worrying things for my parents was – 

It was still legal for landlords to have notices on their doors and windows that said “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.

Despite this and much more my parents found a two-roomed basement flat, in the poorest street, in the poorest part of London which at that time was Battersea, right under the power station which was still live at the time. 

It was so bad they demolished the street, it no longer exists but it is an address I will always remember. The address where we lived for about eight years. Nearly sixty years later I can still remember our very first address in the UK - 50 St Joseph Battersea London SW11…notice no postcode.

Every time I tell my story I fondly look back and think ‘if only I knew then what I know now about property prices”, I would have bought the whole street.

 But I call my parents the true entrepreneurs they succeeded against the odds.

My father, even though he was in the Police Force in Guyana, had no choice but to accept work at St Thomas’ Hospital as a plumbers-mate.  But this was a good thing as it became a job for life. This is where he stayed until he retired.  

My mother is where I got my work ethic from. She instilled in me that early to bed, early to rise, makes you healthy wealthy and wise.  Don’t know about the early to bed bit, but I am always up very early.  She had three part time jobs as well as looking after six children and sometimes seven if you counted my dad.  She is what would be now known now as, not a housewife, but a domestic engineer.  She made everything and everyone work in the house.  

Skipping past schools and college experience, yes I went through the various forms of racism, being spat at by passing vans whilst standing at bus stops and being chased down the road by gangs. We all know the stories.

But it was when I got to my first real permanent job that I  knew what sexism and racism really was.  

43 years ago the music industry was the place to be, but really only if you were white and male.  After spending six or seven years at CBS Records I realised the only way for me to move up was to move out.  So I did and never looked back even though the nemesis on my shoulder was saying “no more freebies, t-shirts, records, gigs and no more pictures with the stars”.  Why would you leave a great paying job, and by the way you are a single mother with a five year old to look after.

My many firsts included starting the first black owned PR company in the UK (according to PR Week) and Capital Radio was one of my first client, but most relevant to why I am here now is because I went on to be a founding member of the first legal black owned radio station in the UK, Choice FM.  

I was ambitious and passionate about the music and entertainment industry as I still am now, so when the opportunity of Choice FM came there was no question in my mind. It was the next step of my journey that the universe had conspired for me.  I was going to be on that board whatever it took. The bank was never going to loan me that money, after all at that time women just weren’t running their own businesses, never mind a black woman, and a single mother at that - three whammies - and being a banker, the next thing that came out of his mouth was “the  government won’t give a licence for a black radio station, you might start a riot”.  Many naysayers and non-believers tried to dissuade me from wasting my money because “you will never get a legal license” and “anyway, black music will never take off in the UK”.


 If only I had £1 for each time I heard that one.  


I wasn’t going to be deterred. I was passionate to the point where I persuaded my parents to remortgage the family home to loan me my share of investment. They became my backer.  Needless to say I paid them back many times over including unpacking my part of their backpack of dreams.

I was the only female on a board of ten, so even then I felt the weight of being a minority within a minority organisation.

You may also know, Choice FM went onto win another licence in Birmingham and of course we sold Choice FM London to Capital and it’s now known as Capital Xtra.  The rest as they say is history, or in my case Herstory. 

We changed the face of music in the UK.

We gave oxygen to new creative genres of music in the UK when no one else would give airtime.

We changed the dance, fashion and youth culture in the UK.

We supported black businesses that could not advertise on mainstream radio.

We gave airtime to those who would not normally have access.

We changed the face of radio in the UK.

Since starting Choice FM I have gone on to advise government, private sector, public sector and, as you can see from Chairing the Radio Academy, charities is also one of my passions. Championing equality in the workplace specially for women and minorities.   

But “how did you come to be here” I hear you say. I was headhunted for another position not too dissimilar to Chairing the Radio Academy, with a not too dissimilar name.  I was not successful in that appointment but I was introduced to the Radio Academy, went through the process and the rest is Herstory.

It’s a good thing to be passionate about what you do because chairing the Radio Academy is more time and more work than I ever anticipated, but when you are passionate it is not like work at all.  I am very lucky to be having the time of my life … again!!


So how do I see the future of the Radio Academy?

Top Ambitions for the Academy during my 3-year term

  • Re-unification of the industry - it is important the Academy provides a mutual ground for all radio stations, both public and private sector.  I am sure I don’t need to expand on that any further except to say, we have a lot of serious and delicate negotiating to do. 
  • Re-establishing The Radio Academy’s profile as THE leading learning and promotions body for the radio industry.
  • Signs are they do but what do we do if Leeds don’t want us back for The Arias?
  • Finding a physical home for the Radio Academy to become radio’s equivalent of the Brit school.
  • We may even explore the benefits of the Academy being the Chartered Institute of Radio Broadcasting to consolidate the gravitas of our reputation and ensure longevity.
  • But none of this means anything unless we future proof our industry by ensuring the talent pipeline both in front of, and behind, the mic to enable us to not just survive but also to thrive. We have to widen participation in the industry through diversification.  
  • We will ensure more visibility of gender, race and intersectionality of the other strands of diversity. Let’s celebrate LGBTQ, abilities, faith and other strands of diversity that allow radio workers to shine by bringing their true selves to work.
  • So my real message here to the radio industry is Diversify Or Die.
  • Increasing representation of women and minorities is a must. 

The Ofcom report has many recommendations which I am happy to share with everyone.

  Here are just a few top line stats that we should all be concerned about as provided by OfCom:

  • Ethnic minority employees make up 6% of the radio workforce, but nationally are 14% of the UK’s population.
  • Only 5% of radio roles go to people who consider themselves disabled.
  • Women occupy only 37% of senior management roles in radio, but we are 50% if not 51% of the population, and then it does not specify the intersectionality of race with gender.
  • According to OfCom although all organisations participating in the research provided them with information on employees’ gender, only 11 of the 16 submitted ethnicity and disability data. 
  • Even then many had gaps in the information they provided. As such the radio industry failed to report on the ethnicity of 9% of its workforce, while disability data was missing for 38% of employees.
  • The BBC offered the most complete set of data. It was the only organisation to provide full or partial information across all six diversity characteristics.


Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: 

  “Radio is a powerful, personal medium, with an unrivalled ability to inspire loyalty and speak directly to its audience. Our radio industry must reflect the breadth of modern society and offer listeners engaging shows that speak directly to their lives and experiences. And to do this effectively broadcasters must take further action to attract a wider range of talent, both on and off air.”


We seek reward but what rights and responsibilities do we hold in that regard?

With the changing demographic landscape of the UK, radio has to be more  considerate about who they are talking to, consider the make up of their audience, consider who the influencers are, who the trend setters are, who has the disposable incomes that will keep the industry alive, and for independent stations, who makes the decisions on the household spend that advertisers want to reach? For instance London will soon be 30% minorities. Some boroughs are already majority minorities.


But radio is not alone. We are not the only industry that needs to heed this message. It applies to British industry across the board.


I worked with the Davies Report which showed the lack of gender diversity on boards and subsequently the Parker Review which showed the lack of race diversity on boards  across the FTSE 100, and the figures there are dire even though many of the companies are global. Their boards do not reflect their stakeholders’ audiences and customers.

There are many reports by reputable leading consultancies such as McKinsey’s. Research showing that leadership roles matter. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation 

It’s not just gender. Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. This relationship continues to be strong with a more highly diverse mix beyond gender, e.g., LGBTQ+, age/generation, international experience, and this can be a key differentiator among companies. 


Diversity Pays Dividends.


With that in mind I would like to announce that The Radio Academy’s closing event for 2018 will tip our caps to the 100th year of women’s rights to vote, amongst many other things. 

To celebrate women in radio. The Radio Academy will be recognising the Top 100 Women On Radio, as voted for by our members.

Details will be released in the next few days on our website and to the media.

Celebrating women in media is one of The Radio Academy’s first steps on our journey to promote diversity across radio.

As part of his inaugural speech President Obama said “We should  never forget that the only reason that we’re standing here today is because somebody, somewhere, sometime, somehow stood up for us when it was risky. 

“They stood up when it was hard. 

“They stood up when it wasn't popular. 

“And because somebody stood up, a few more stood up.

“Then thousands stood up. 

“Then millions stood up. 

“And by standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world, and we can do that too.

“It’s time for us to stand up together and be the change we want to see because, if not you then who, if not now then when.”

Supported by my brilliant Deputy, John Dash, the dedicated board of Trustees, Patrons, members and people passionate about radio, I’m ready to push this forward.

I am honoured to accept the baton passed by the previous excellent chair Chris Burns, which has been in the safe keeping and excellent leadership of the incredibly persuasive CEO Roger Cutsforth, also soon to be previous. If you don’t know by now where have you been for the last few weeks? Roger leaves The Radio Academy as CEO the end of this month to join NewsUK. Sad for us but congrats to Roger and NewsUK. However, we look forward to his on-going support.

I am passionate about gender equality.

I am passionate about race equality.

But I am even more passionate about radio.  

In closing I would like to repeat my ambitions during my term 

Top Ambitions for the Academy during my term is working towards the following:-

  • Re-unification of the industry.  
  • Re-establishing The Radio Academy’s profile as the leading learning and promotions body for the radio industry.
  • Finding a physical home for the Radio Academy to become our equivalent of the Brits School.
  • Exploring the benefits of the Academy being a Chartered Institute of Radio Broadcasting to consolidate the gravitas of our reputation and ensure longevity.
  • Diversification to avoid group think and future proof the radio industry 


Thanks to Leeds for hosting The Radio Academy, hosting Segue and the ARIAS again this year.  Thanks to all our partners and sponsors  for the faith and for standing up for us.  To Lucy Duffield, Lucy Goodwin, Louise Davies and of course thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time – that you will never get back.


Poet Maya Angelou said:

“People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel.”

Socrates said: 

“I am not here to teach you but to make you think.”


So I hope I leave you feeling inspired to at least go away and think about what I have shared with you today.

If you would like to know more about how you can support the Radio Academy in any of these areas please do contact me

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