A tribute to broadcast legend Keith Burnside who has hung up his headphones after 44 years
Written by Anne-Marie Wallace
On Friday night (3 June), after 44 years of broadcasting to the Northern Irish public, Keith Burnside hung up his headphones, signing off the midnight bulletin on BBC Radio Ulster, simply saying “and that’s my last BBC News”. A class act to the very end.
My rather tough job was to pick up in BBC Radio Ulster continuity to say good night and hand over to BBC Radio 5 Live but it’s not that easy when you feel sad that one of your trusted colleagues is leaving.
Keith Burnside first walked in to the BBC NI newsroom 19 years ago when I was working on TV news doing the autocue.
He arrived with a big smile on his face, thrilled to be doing a job he so loves. I was a little star struck that THE Keith Burnside, from Crimecall and Police 6 fame, was going to be working in the newsroom with us. For many of us he is somebody we grew up with, a trusted face, a trusted voice.
It was always obvious that Keith is a perfectionist, keen to get the breaking news out as quickly as possible but always ensuring the highest standards in both journalism and broadcasting are adhered to.
He would always be in the studio in plenty of time, always checking lines, mic levels, computer play ins, consistently getting his timings just right.
Keith never became complacent and was happy to impart his wisdom to those of us learning the ropes.
When I applied for my job in the studios in Radio Ulster, he helped me with script writing and spent time showing me how to annunciate properly on air. When I received the call to say that I’d got the job, he was the first person I told and he genuinely couldn’t have been happier for me.
He is kind and patient, his desire to keep the highest broadcasting standards his driving force.
Don’t think this makes him boring or humourless. Keith could be heard walking through the newsroom singing to himself or down at the ‘smoking area’ enjoying a cigar and chatting happily to whoever would join him.
As News presenter Declan Harvey put it “always so smooth, always so reassuring, always with a twinkle in his eye …we’ll miss him”
Fellow newsreader Tina Campbell told me; “What can I say? Keith is a local legend in broadcasting whom I of course remember from my days at UTV as well. I’ve been back at the BBC for nearly 10 years now and he was the first one to welcome me when I walked in the door and joined the Radio Ulster news reading team. I’ll miss his smooth and reassuring voice on the airwaves, as will so many across Northern Ireland.”
His friend and colleague Ann Marie Foster put it “Like so many others, I felt Keith’s appearance on the TV with UTV was like having a friend in the living room, explaining the news. When I got the job with the BBC it was thrilling to work with him, his support over the last 15 years has been wonderful and a testament to his enthusiasm for the job as well as his professionalism. He leaves a big gap on the BBC Radio Ulster bulletins desk… and everyone in the newsroom will miss him.”
With Keith turning 66 on 1st July he feels it’s time to retire and spend more time with his beloved family. The man who would call himself an ‘athlete’ has definitely gone the distance but part of me hopes he’s coaxed back out of retirement to allow us to appreciate that soothing voice for some time to come.
As Tina Campbell told me, “he’s the epitome of the word ‘professional’.”
“One of the very best in the business. Keith was so kind and helpful when I was a young broadcaster. A top bloke! Enjoy taking it easier Keith.” – Frank Mitchell
“An absolute gent and wonderful broadcaster. Keith - you will be missed!” – Sarah Travers
“Keith looking as fresh as a daisy in that lovely photo! Had the pleasure of working with him at UTV & BBC. A wonderful colleague, great company and top of his game. Happy retirement, Keith.” – Yvette Shapiro
“The voice of hourly news broadcasting in NI for decades. Best wishes for your next chapter Keith Burnside.” – Mandy McAuley