Old-school radio presenter known for his golden voice

Tony Fenton: March 25th, 1961 - March 12th, 2015

 

Tony Fenton, who has died aged 53, was consistently one of this country’s most popular radio DJs, at home with a wide variety of rock and pop, from American soul stars like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin to veteran rockers like Van Morrison or U2, who performed at his funeral in Dublin.

He also embraced the more recent era of boyband pop, and strongly supported various acts, especially Boyzone and Westlife in the 1990s.

Apart from U2, another northside Dublin band with which he formed a close friendship was Aslan, who regularly played at Fenton’s birthday and at other private celebrations for many years.

Entering the business at 17 with Dublin pirate radio station Alternative Radio Dublin (ARD) after finishing school at Beneavin College in north Dublin, Fenton stepped right into arguably the most exciting era for Irish radio, when it was beginning to emerge from the single-channel monopoly enjoyed by RTÉ.

A close friend from his teenage years upwards, fellow DJ Ian Dempsey, whose career has had a similar trajectory, said of this period that “we were lucky in that we were into radio when radio was beginning to be into Ireland”.

Both Dempsey and RTÉ’s Dave Fanning, a long-time colleague of Fenton’s from his days, from 1985 to 2003, at RTÉ Radio 2, described his style as a broadcaster as one which never varied over his nearly 40-year career. It was, in Dempsey’s words, “old school, in the best sense of that term” .

Golden voice

What you heard from Fenton on air, his colleagues insisted, was what you got off air. Among his many skills, D’Arcy said, was his ability to speak right up to the second the vocals would come in on a record, and “his ability to put songs together” seamlessly.

Ian Dempsey adds that his friend was, both in studio and out of it “a great listener … who wasn’t looking to interview the important people, and who would act on things” to help others much less well-known than himself.

Awards

After leaving ARD, Fenton worked also at Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova before starting with RTÉ, with which, after the departure of Ian Dempsey, he became somewhat disenchanted, leaving in 2003 to spend a year working in Spain for an English-language radio station. On his return to Ireland he hosted both lunchtime and afternoon shows on Today FM until illness forced him to retire in 2014.

Tony Fagan, who always used the broadcasting name Fenton, was born in Dublin, one of five children of Brendan Fagan, a builder, and his wife Eithne. After leaving school he was for a time apprenticed to his father as his carpenter.

Fascinated by radio from an early age, he set up a mobile DJ unit with his friend Barry Lang which traded as Tow Bar, which stood for Tony and Barry, and played at teenage gigs, weddings and parties around Dublin.

He is survived by his partner, Sinead Lynch, by his brothers, Paul, Colm and Kevin, and a sister, Ann, and by nephews and nieces.