Obituary: Tireless campaigner Ricky McCarthy who wanted to give underdog a voice, dies aged 81

Ricky McCarthy with Princess Diana

Ricky McCarthy with Princess Diana - Credit: Archant

A tireless campaigner for racial equality and founder of a pioneering multicultural radio station has been remembered as “an inspiration to so many of those who knew him”.

Glassop Enrickie McCarthy, known to friends and family as Ricky McCarthy, lived in West Hampstead for 50 years after emigrating from Kingston, Jamaica, in 1957.

He died on August 11 at the age of 81 after battling cancer.

Mr McCarthy helped set up Spectrum International Radio in the early 1990s – the only multi-ethnic foreign language station in the UK.

One of the highlights of his time at Spectrum was covering the release of his hero Nelson Mandela when he came to London to address community leaders.

He also had a long and distinguished record of community involvement and was an active member of West Hampstead Labour Party for more than 40 years.

After the Brixton Riots of 1981, Mr McCarthy established the Afro-Caribbean Radio project, a not-for-profit community organisation with a business partner, Stan Reed.

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Based in the Bon Marche building in Brixton, the project offered broadcast skills training for disadvantaged youths and was emblematic of Mr McCarthy’s vision of utilising media, and particularly radio, as a force for social upliftment.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited the studios on a tour of regeneration projects in the area as did the then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd.

Though the project did not receive an individual broadcasting licence, Mr McCarthy was undeterred and instead teamed up with his fellow directors at Spectrum Radio to spearhead the Afro-Caribbean section of the station, which also included Greek, Italian, Jewish, Chinese and Asian components and launched in June 1990.

Speaking about his contribution to community radio, Kennie Williamson, who was one of the original founders of the Afro Caribbean Radio project, said: “Ricky was a strongly politicised and passionate individual, who always had the black community at heart.

“His vision was to create opportunities in broadcasting for those who didn’t have access to media training or contacts and to make programmes that would educate and galvanise the community.”

Gammo Speng, a DJ who presented one of the shows at Spectrum and who moved on to Choice FM, said: “Ricky was a mentor and a father figure to me. He wanted to create a talk station for people of ethnicity, not just music – that’s easy, anyone could do that.

“He wanted all of us to further our education to show how black people could make a unique and intelligent contribution to society – not just through sport or music but through debate and discussion.”

When he first arrived in the UK from Jamaica, Mr McCarthy lived in Hampstead and Fulham before settling in West Hampstead where he lived until his death.

At first he worked as a conductor on the 2 and 28 bus routes and was a batsman for the London Transport cricket team while he worked there.

While working on the buses he also studied accountancy at Westminster Polytechnic before getting a job in the accounts department of Kodak where he later became a manager.

He worked at Kodak throughout the 1960s and often commented that, for the years when he commuted in from Hampstead to Holborn, he was the only black man dressed in a suit heading to work in the West End.

In the 1980s he managed the Kentish Town Afro-Caribbean Youth Club and secured funding for two detached workers to extend their activities from Kingsgate Community Centre. He was also a governor at Kingsgate Junior School.

His daughter, Karen McCarthy Woolf, said: “Our dad was a very family-orientated man who was an inspiration to so many of those who knew him, whether through work or on a personal level.”

Mr McCarthy has been described as a lively, sociable character who liked nothing better than sitting up into the night debating with friends and setting the world to rights.

He was a news and sports fanatic with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Caribbean and particularly Jamaican politics.

Mr McCarthy was a long-time supporter of the arts and after retiring he continued his community work, acting as a senior adviser and development manager to an Ethiopian-based dance company.

He visited the project in Addis Ababa in 2012 and again in April this year shortly before his death.

Mr McCarthy is survived by his partner Desis Thomas and eight children – Eddy, Paul, Steve, Jan Pieter, Karen, Patrice, Tameran and Teanne from four previous marriages.

His funeral will be on Wednesday at 12.30pm at Cemetery Chapel in Islington and Camden Cemetery, 278 High Road, East Finchley.