INSPIRATION: Frank Stewart
IMAGINE LIVING in a time when black people and gospel music were rarely heard on the radio. This was the case in 1980s Britain, and one person who helped change the situation and inspire a generation of gospel DJs was Frank Stewart, who died recently after a bout of ill health.
From the early 1990s up until 2003, Frank Stewart presented a popular gospel show on BBC Radio WM. It was the first show on BBC WM and BBC local radio in general to be dedicated to gospel music and black Christian affairs.
The show started off as a five-minute slot, growing to 30 minutes and then two hours. It was essential listening for Christians in the Midlands. Frank served as a role model and figure of inspiration for budding black radio presenters and gospel DJs, and mentored many.
Nikki Tapper took over the reins from Frank in 2003. She said: “I am humbled by the contribution Frank Stewart made to local BBC radio broadcasting, and that he was one of the few black voices to be heard.”
Choice FM and Premier Gospel DJ Dave P recalled listening to Frank in his youth. “Growing up listening to the late Frank Stewart was amazing. At that time we did not have gospel shows on mainstream radio, so it was refreshing to hear Frank. I had the opportunity to meet up with him for a chat about radio, and gospel music in the UK. The impact he made on me as a young man will never be forgotten.”
Dulcie Dixon has presented a gospel show on BBC Radio Leicester for over 21 years and cites Frank as an inspiration. “When it comes to UK gospel music history, Frank Stewart needs to be recorded as the father of gospel music radio. He pioneered our longest running gospel music radio show on the BBC, and inspired others like me. Frank helped me to realise the possibilities of gospel music on the radio in terms of longevity as a presenter.”
Soraya Patrick, was part of a team – which included Frank Stewart – who pioneered the black presence on BBC Radio WM. She also produced his show in the early years. “As a human being he was great. As a radio person he was more interested in trying to develop the community and helping people get their voice heard. He never wanted to be a media star. He wanted to be a conduit for people.”
Frank Stewart was born in Trinidad in 1943. He came to the UK in 1961 along with his siblings, who were members of a gospel group called The Singing Stewarts which performed around the UK and throughout Europe.
“As a brother he was the most caring person you could ever think about,” says Frank’s brother, Oscar. “He always wanted to sing but always to the glory of God. I believe he was a pioneer in gospel radio in the UK, and the Midlands in particular.”