THE Prime Minister meant it as a sincere tribute when he called Kenny Macintyre ''more than a journalist, an institution'', but with respect to Mr Blair this was the last word most colleagues would use to describe the man whose gravelly tones were the voice of Scottish broadcast journalism.

To those who knew and valued him as a fellow professional and as a man, he was the very opposite of an institution. How could we describe thus a journalist who turned down an OBE because he prized his independence? Who would take on the highest in the land and grill them mercilessly? Who retained that marvellously distinctive accent? Who treated politicians with respect only as far as was warranted by their decency and humanity, not their office? Kenny Macintyre was a fixture, a feature, even a bedrock of the political scene. But not an institution, with all the cosy establishment connotations of the term. His friends in the trade used to joke with him that if he did not cut back on his punishing schedule he would end up in an institution.

The abruptness of the loss baffles and dismays, but is strangely in keeping.

He was always arriving in a hurry, his dishevelled appearance and chaotic style belying his utter professionalism and dedication, and he would depart for the next assignment in a similar flurry of activity and haste, constantly cursing his personal war with the technology which dictated his job as batteries and tapes were spilled and changed.

MacCaig said of MacDiarmid's departure that it should be marked by a ''two-minute pandemonium''. We ought to mark Macintyre's going with a collective curse at the technological hardware that cuts across our common humanity.

Macintyre's story is a fine and complicated one. Born in Oban in July 1944, his father, Angus, was a perfect combination of the romantic and practical, a bank manager from Taynuilt who was was a poet and storyteller. He was also a Highland Games athlete.

The family had settled in Tobermory on Mull and Kenny and his brothers grew up there. He was educated at Achaleven Primary in Connell and at Oban High School. He was to seize a place in the Highland Games record books himself, with his 48ft 71/2in hop-skip-and-jump in 1965 which shattered a record set in 1899.

He followed his father into banking, dabbled in tourism with a gift shop, and then went into the building trade. The small construction firm was to fall victim to the recession of the early eighties but by then he was already making forays into broadcasting, pushing mater-ial on to BBC Radio Highlands.

This talent was recognised with a staff job in Edinburgh and he soon began to focus on industrial affairs and the interface with politics marked by the miners' strike and the run-down of the steel industry. His pivotal role with the Good Morning Scotland programme as political and industrial correspondent gave him a quantum leap into the heart of the nation's political affairs.

But it's not how you get there; it's what you do with it. Macintyre had that great gift of all the best journalists and broadcasters, a natural, unforced common touch. Friends who shared his West Coast islands background spoke yesterday of this as a shared heritage, but others from elsewhere felt kinship with it.

He famously told John Major, later to offer that OBE: ''I hope your team gets gubbed,'' a castigation for not granting an interview. Having charmed football tickets out of Newcastle chairman Sir John Hall, he then observed of his Bentley limousine: ''See in Mull? We'd keep chickens in it.''

A few days ago Macintyre was standing outside Bute House as Donald Dewar was about to unveil his Cabinet. ''Bit of a shock about Jim Wallace as deputy?'' this writer ventured. Macintyre grinned and bellowed: ''You're not effing joking,'' only to notice that his broadcast colleague Fiona Ross was in the middle of a presentation to camera only feet away. He grimaced at disrupting a colleague's work.

He was a wonderful, warm man who contained within him so many contradictions. A public figure and confidant of premiers, with a private home life on Mull with his wife, Elizabeth, and grown-up sons, Kenny and Colin.

Combative yet charming. Insightful yet superficially disorganised. Stubborn, even relentless, and yet fair, wielding his microphone as scalpel or bludgeon but always even-handedly across the spectrum.

Ministers trusted him but he retained the outsider's dash. His energy and enthusiasm belied his middle years. After completing his day's work at around 7pm he would go off to play five-a-side football, often returning in his kit to Queen Margaret Drive late in the evening, ''terrorising staff with his bandy legs'' as one friend put it, to check things out. Yet he would be back on at six in the morning.

With hindsight the wonder is not that a teetotal fitness freak eventually keeled over while jogging. It is that a workaholic survived so long. ''His idea of relaxation was knocking hell out of the lads at five-a-sides. The concept of leisure was alien to him,'' said his brother, Eric. ''He lived life to the full, and treated everyone the same, whether it was Tony Blair or a homeless person. He was very human.''

His friends and his listeners testify to that. Talk of professional voids is usually hyperbole. Kenny Macintyre, at this of all times with the arrival of the Scottish Parliament, has left a void.