Why present a radio show if no one’s listening? Because it makes you happy, that’s why.
My favorite news story of 2018 was about Deke Duncan, a radio-loving Englishman who set up his own station in the 1970s in a storage shed at the back of his garden.
Called Radio 77, the show was broadcast exclusively to an audience of one: Deke’s wife, Teresa, who’d listen in on Sundays from inside their home in Stevenage, a small Hertfordshire town. Back in the shed, Deke would play his favorite tunes from artists like the O’Jays and send out special hellos to “Mrs. Teresa Duncan of 57 Gonville Crescent.”
Deke always wanted to be a professional DJ, but he never got a license. In 1974, he was profiled by the BBC’s Nationwide program, saying his ultimate ambition would be to broadcast his show to the whole of Stevenage. Then, in 2018 an #OnThisDay tweet by the BBC Archive led to him being tracked down again to see if he’d ever got his wish.
Now living in Stockport, near Manchester, he remained as dedicated as ever, presenting Radio 77 from a makeshift studio, still to an audience of just one: his second wife, Pamela.
The delightful and somewhat quirky story captured hearts everywhere, and Deke promptly found himself in the headlines. During an interview with BBC Three Counties Radio, he was given the surprise of a lifetime: his very own one-hour holiday special, to air on New Year’s Eve throughout the English counties of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, and Buckinghamshire.
As he realized his dream was finally becoming a reality after forty-four years, Deke replied: “Better pass the tissues.”
Human beings are social creatures and it’s in our nature to seek validation. Sometimes, we can let that instinct get in the way of living our dreams. But not Deke. After his favorite station closed down and he couldn’t land a spot as a DJ on traditional radio, he created the kind of show he’d listen to himself. He played for the love of the game, not for prestige and celebrity, not even for money.
If you’re wondering whether he was ever bothered by the lack of listeners, the answer’s no. “Even on a real radio station, you can’t see the audience,” he says matter-of-factly, “so what’s the difference?”
Deke’s commitment to his passion and his utter lack of cynicism or bitterness about never “making it” as a DJ in the narrowest sense of the term is not only admirable but exceptionally inspiring. Our dreams don’t always look the way we’d imagined, and very rarely do they mirror someone else’s. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing.
For over four decades, Deke Duncan has been quietly getting on with the work he loves in his own little corner of the world, and today we all know his name. Nobody was listening, but the universe was watching.
As 2018 draws to a close and a new year comes in, with all the customary pressures and resolutions and new beginnings, I hope you’ll remember Deke’s story. If there’s a dream you’ve been holding close to your heart — whether it’s professional, like changing careers, or more personal, like having a family — give it some room to breathe in 2019. It may just grow wings and lead you to paths you didn’t know you’d walk in this life, even if it takes a while.
“God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can dream for yourself” is something Oprah Winfrey is fond of saying. I think Mr. Deke Duncan, radio DJ, would definitely agree. Happy new year.
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Betenwrite.com offers copywriting and résumé editing services. It’s also the home of the namesake career wellness and CV strategy blog created by London-based writer Rui Betencourt. The blog’s mission is to inspire would-be career shifters to break the negative thought patterns holding them back and start taking practical steps toward integrating their personal and professional selves.