Instantly recognisable by his affable manner and smile, Ian Sweiger, who has died aged 79, was part of a duo with his partner of 25 years Beverley Bond, who helped launch Spectrum Radio in 1990. It opened up the airwaves to the polyglot sounds of multi-cultural communities. It rocked to London’s Afro-Caribbean rhythms, alongside Asian, Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Italian, Hispanic and — of course Jewish — voices which were not until that moment the voices of the British establishment.
Operating from a rather uninspiring 50s building, aptly called Endeavour House near Brent Cross shopping centre, its early broadcasting ambitions encountered challenges right from the start. Due to launch on the frequency 558AM, on June 25, 1990, that frequency was taken by pirate broadcaster Radio Caroline, so Spectrum International launched instead on a temporary frequency of 990AM. Sweiger was a director of the company for four years between 1992 and 1996.
Determined to launch a daily Jewish programme, he and his team were pioneers who recognised that the needs of London’s growing indigenous communities were not being met. With broadcasters like Pete Sipple, who spent four years as its commercial producer and engineer, they set out to fill that vaccum. Keith Belcher was first Chief Executive, and John Kaye, their first presenter.
Spectrum Radio, which continues to cover over 20 different ethnic communities, is distinguished by its foreign language programmes, many of which have been on air since its launch. Its concept generated other local Jewish radio stations, including Shalom Radio and Jewish Care Radio.
Sweiger grew up in north London’s Crouch End, and his early experience was of being the messy, arty child in a tidy household, constantly told to “tidy up that mess.” But at school his talents were recognised and his artwork won good grades. Largely self-taught, he spent a term at St Martin’s School of Art.
“My childhood/teenage paintings had a sense of fantasy combined with paranoia, a result of the Second World War and the Shoah,” he said. He developed ideas from the war and the natural world and his work was featured on the Saatchi Art website. His first influence was Augustus John — for light and colour. “Nature is my biggest inspiration,” he said, “but I no longer try and capture its infinite beauty.”
Sweiger was much travelled and lived in Johannesburg and New York before finally settling in Edgware, north London. His interests were eclectic; he owned the first jazz disco in South Africa, and worked in America as a dental technician. He had a travelling puppet theatre in America and Europe with his gifted soulmate Eileen, who tragically died of leukaemia in the prime of her life. But he found another love of his life in Beverley, whom he described as a kindred spirit. It was during their 25 year long relationship that they set up London’s first multi-ethnic radio station. He credits her with having saved his life when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. “We still made each other laugh,” he said.
But more tragedy was to follow when Beverley suffered a massive heart attack while “enjoying an idyllic short break” with Ian in the Lake District in 2009. Her death left him heart-broken. Sweiger died of leukaemia and is survived by his nephew Stuart Grabski.
Ian Sweiger: born 1939. Died November 24, 2017.