Linda lives in Bangor with her husband Paul Wilson. In 2006, the programme was named as the Best Consumer Television or Radio Programme by the Trading Standards Institute with Linda named as National Consumer Journalist of the Year for Northern Ireland.
How did your media career begin?
By mistake! I applied for a job in Downtown Radio when it started in March 1976. I worked in the newsroom, taking copy on a manual typewriter, the phone wedged on my shoulder, sending telexes (yes, they were still around), recording interviews down the line from IRN on huge reel to reel tape recorders, and generally being a dog’s body and loving it.
The dog and horseracing results were broadcast each evening at 6.30pm. No one seemed to want to read them, so I volunteered. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce some of the names, but a veteran presenter, Brian McSherry, gave me a great piece of advice: “Say it clearly and firmly and never correct yourself. Everyone will assume you’re right.”
I presented a morning show with Hendi and read the news. My worst moment came when I announced that a new prison was to be built at Mega-berry. I still haven’t lived that one down. However, the late Dan Gilbert, a BBC producer, heard me on Downtown and offered me a job presenting an evening drive-time programme, Change Gear.
How would you sum up the role of On Your Behalf?
On Your Behalf is BBC Radio Ulster’s leading consumer programme. We’re there for everyone; to champion the consumer and inform them. Everyone likes to get advice from a trusted friend and I think On Your Behalf is a friend to many listeners when they’ve nowhere else to go.
We investigate their queries and often get amazing results – sometimes getting thousands of pounds back – and we inform, I hope in an entertaining and engaging way. Real people lead the programme; it’s about their concerns, their problems. We can’t get a result for everyone but I do think all our listeners learn something every week – I know I do.
On Your Behalf is unique in that we try to reply to everyone who contacts the programme. It may be in the form of a signpost to an organisation that can help but all benefits queries go to Professor Eileen Evason who answers each one individually and some are broadcast. Often I will interview listeners either by phone or more often in their own home, and when we contact the organisation on their behalf, we usually get things sorted. Sometimes listeners just want an apology. Other times they want money back or compensation. Often they haven’t been able to get to speak to someone in a big organisation.
What has been the most interesting story?
Every story is interesting in its own way, if not the actual query, the person and their own situation.
Going out to interview listeners is the best part for me. Getting out around Northern Ireland, meeting real people, hearing real issues and helping them has been wonderful.
Over the years we’ve built up a trust with our listeners and I feel very honoured to have the trust of so many people. However, in the last 18 months we’ve been successful in getting the insurance industry to recognise that we’re different in Northern Ireland. People regularly drive to Dublin to get flights and many people have found to their cost that their travel insurance didn’t cover them for a Dublin departure. The British Insurance Brokers Association has recently rewritten its policies to reflect our needs and I’m proud that On Your Behalf made that happen.
How do you spend your free time?
As a working mother of three sons, I didn’t have much free time so golf wasn’t even a possibility. However, now they’re grown up, one is married and his two older brothers are both engaged to lovely girls. I’ve taken up golf at Helen’s Bay Golf Club and the fun, friendship and competitions are great. Holidays are pretty important too and my husband Paul and I enjoy travelling to the Far East and Asia, as well as visiting family in England and America.