STV anchor John MacKay marks 20 years on air

It has been 20 years to the day since the steady voice of John MacKay first beamed into homes across Scotland.

Barely a few weeks after his 29th birthday, the blue-eyed, fresh-faced journalist took up the microphone for broadcaster STV - beginning a career that would see him witness and cover some of the biggest moments in Scottish history.

"I had a lot more hair back then though," jokes MacKay, seated in the makeup room ahead of the evening news broadcast.

"Working here you always have that moment when you look up from your desk and see someone scouring old archive tapes with your face on it," MacKay adds ruefully. "That's when you realise how long it has been."

As a reporter and then news anchor for broadcaster STV, 49-year-old MacKay has been at the forefront of Scottish media since the 1990s.

The son of an aero engineer with strong family links to the windswept and musical Western Isles, MacKay grew up in the south side of Glasgow, later going on to study politics in the city's university.

His forays as editor with the student newspaper there led to a job with the Sunday Post at a time when typewriters were the tool of choice, before landing his first broadcast role in radio with the BBC.

"I managed to build up a fair bank of experience there," said MacKay.

"I've been through pretty much everything; from crashing on air to stories breaking as you’re live - so there has always been challenges. But the more you face it the more comfortable you are with it."

Subsequently headhunted by STV, MacKay embarked on a television career filled with some of the most momentous and tumultuous moments the country has witnessed.

"The biggest highlight for me has been the referendum. It has been the absolute pinnacle of my career," said MacKay.

"I think it felt like that to most who were involved in it. Because of the historic nature of it, if it comes around again I don't think it will have quite the same resonance. It was a major moment."

For the softly spoken presenter though, it is the people at the heart of the stories he covers who remain the most memorable.

"Quite often the people that impress you most are not the big names but are just people – maybe who have come through traumatic experiences," said MacKay.

"Even now though, 18 years later, I still struggle to comprehend what happened in Dunblane.

"You have to be impartial though. You absolutely have to be," he adds. "It’s not about you. It never is about you. It’s about what has happened.

"I remember interviewing a former Japanese prisoner of war and I still remember his words. It was deeply moving, very powerful. Meeting people like him affects you much more than meeting people with big names.

"That’s what STV does though. We’re not removed from our audience, and I think our audience get that connection. I think if we tried to move ourselves away from that then we’d take away what makes us special."

Despite admitting to having never felt starstruck by the 'big names', MacKay has interviewed a long list of prime ministers and movie stars.

His encounter with Hollywood's 'Anchorman' Will Ferrell included some tie advice and hair grooming tips which left the Scot "much amused".

With a slight conspiratorial nod of his head though, he does admit to one gentleman he would possibly be starstruck by...

"I'm a big Springsteen fan," MacKay admits with grin.

"The media has changed a lot over the 20 years though," he adds.

"We've come quite a distance in political terms, through devolution to the promised extra powers for the Scottish Parliament. It has been a transformational time.

"When I started 20 years ago, I think if anybody had said that we would have had devolution – or that we’d have had a vote on Scottish independence, I think they would have been dismissed. It has been quite a journey."

The technology of TV has also changed dramatically. Compared to MacKay's early years in the industry, reporters can now film and edit their own reports in the field and anchor programmes from location which was never easily achieved before.

And the prediction that television would be added to the endangered species list has also not come to pass in the way people might have expected during the digital era.

"We've had the rise of digital but it’s not happened at the cost of TV," agrees MacKay.

"The newspaper market has seen significant changes and that is still to settle down. There is still a place for papers but whether that will happen in the same way that we used to consume them, I’m not so sure."

What MacKay does believe is that the duty of journalists, no matter the platform, remains the same.

"A lot will depend on what happens in this current debate on what extra powers will possibly be given to Scotland and the decisions that are taken off the back of that," he said.

"There are still exciting times ahead for TV. Digital will continue to grow and I still see a need for a news digest. What form that will take, I’m not sure, but the need will remain."

And for the man who happily admits to still being affected by the buzz of broadcast, it's a welcome future to look forward to.

"You don't know what’s going to happen on any given day and I love that," he said.

"There’s a great deal of things I’ve learned, but professionally I’d say don’t ignore history. It always comes around and there’s not much that surprises any more.

"The wheel just keeps on turning and quite often you see the same thing come around again in different guises.

"So don’t forget what happened before," adds MacKay. "That will inform you."

It's a final thought to the public he serves, however, which neatly sums up MacKay's 20 years on the Good Ship STV.

"It’s genuinely been a privilege. I’ve loved every minute of it," he said.

"I genuinely appreciate the loyalty of our viewers. You’re invited into their homes every night to tell them about what has been going on in their country during the course of the day.

"People tune in every day and I’m genuinely grateful for that – we all are. I keep using the word 'privilege’ but that’s what it is. I’m just very grateful to them for allowing me to do this.

"Here’s to the next 20!" adds MacKay with a grin. "Lucy in makeup has a big job ahead of her."