Radio Lore in Guyana
By Wayne Jones
November 2, 2003
IT IS said that the purpose of language is to express, not to impress. The early radio broadcasters understood that maxim well. The communication effort is not completed until people understand and are motivated. One of the Guyanese radio journalists who did that well was the gifted, Rafiq Khan, a thorough and upright man. Rafiq inducted many aspiring broadcasters into the field by teaching them the implications of this principle.
Hugh Cholmondeley, veteran broadcaster, mediator and teacher gave high praise to his communication skills especially as political mediator in Guyana. Hugh Hamilton skillfully began reading the news one evening. It is alleged that he called President Reagan out of his name. Guyana was at that time earnestly courting American investments, so talented Hugh was sacrificed. Guyana radio had known just a few broadcasters who could edit the news while on air. Carlton James, Clem David and Alma Rohlehr are in the elite group.
The panacea for the administrative and political excesses in Guyana was `No Big Thing’, `Man in the Street’ and `Action Line’. `Action Line’ had two persistent and bold participants, Mr. Abrams and Mr. MacIntosh. These men were convinced that radio was still an integral part of the democratic process.
I remember Ishri Singh being the MC at a Diwali fair at the Anna Regina Community Centre ground in the 1980s. Ishri’s voice was the same one that woke up and accompanied rural women in the preparation of those spicy dishes for their labouring spouses. During the show, a woman went on to the stage to seek confirmation that Ishri was really the owner of the voice she so dearly loved. Broadcasters may not know but their voices do stir up a lot of things in people out there.
The pleasant radio voice gets its own attractions. Even the voice that announces the somber Deaths and Messages has its own appeal. Here was this young girl from Bel Air Gardens who feel in love with the voice of the learned Franklyn Langhorne, an Ann’s Grovian. She drove her car one night to the radio station to meet Franklyn in flesh. One of the great afternoon shows is `Sunday Showcase’. One Sunday afternoon, Ron Saunders did the show. When Ron started playing rare R&B music, I began wondering who was so charitable to GBS music library. In between songs, Ron was hinting that he was feeling as if that would have been his last `Sunday Showcase’. The show that Sunday afternoon was a great treat.
The late Christopher Dean, and music librarian, Bertie Chancellor, teamed up to demonstrate efficiency in radio. After you answered your question correctly on their morning quiz show, Christopher recklessly asked what song you would like to hear and within seconds, reliable Bertie provided the song to the operator, a strategy North American radio has perfected with the aid of the computer.
Guyana seems to be one of the only English-speaking countries that adores oldies music. Matthew Allen helped to foster that nostalgic condition. Bartica at one time had five discos that offered oldies on different nights of the week. Mabaruma, Lethem, Corriverton and Linden have their fair share of oldies discos too.
The test of the real mettle of a radio personality is the outside broadcast. One has to be very descriptive and thorough in one’s observations. At President Burnham’s second funeral, Vibert Cambridge emerged as the hero. I got the impression that Vibert was experiencing bouts of vocal diarrhoea; but later, my amateurish diagnosis was that he had extensively researched the life of the President and the history of the Botanical Gardens.
Aunty Pat Cameron and Uncle James Sydney seemed to be conscious of the possibilities of human malice and they both offered thoughts and music to improve our self-image and they pointed to the greater virtues.
One day, when GBS was temporarily housed at the National Park, Keith Barnwell told his listeners that he was about to smoke his last Benson and Hedges cigarette and that he was appealing to the kindness of any nearby fan to provide him with a pack. After about an hour, Keith announced that he was surprised to know that he had so many loyal fans.
The old time radio broadcasters were very sensitive in the manner they conducted themselves on air. It is said that Ayube Hamid always preached that love worked better during 99 per cent of the time.
Beverley-Ann Rodrigues and Angela Massiah shattered the myth that you have to be born a radio announcer. The corollary of this myth is that jobs at the radio station are reserved for the elites of the ivory tower. Many young women in the countryside got inspiration from them and some succeeded in that vocation.
Of the younger breed of broadcasters, Lloyd Langevine and Abu Bakr were outstanding. Abu’s voice sounds a bit more resonant. I remember one night there was just music on `Night Ride’. I heard the Dells, Billy Paul and The Fifth Dimensions, etc. I wanted to know who was that soulful moderator. Then, at the end of the programme, a sweet voice said: “I am Abu Bakr. I hope you enjoyed Night Ride. See you next time”. That was a great ride, no judgements but just bare romantic truths.
There were also great activists or actor announcers. Clairmont Tait, Ken Crosbie, Wordsworth MacAndrew, Margaret Lawrence, Ulita Anthony, Lakshmi Kallicharran and Celeste Dolphin, to name a few made their marks and they helped to merge rural folk traditions with urban culture.
For sports broadcasting, `Bruiser’ Thomas, B.L. Crombie and Reds Perriera stand out. B.L. Crombie left with us the aphorism: “It’s not whether you win or loose; it’s how you play the game fair”. Reds Perriera stuttered much of his early life, but still rose from that setback to become one of the Caribbean’s best commentators on any sport.
Allan Khan, Carl Nguyen and his wife Diane Nguyen added great talents to radio. Diane brought her native foreign accent to Guyanese radio. This accent served as a blending ingredient.
`Ron’s Rendezvous’ was not for the half-witted. If you were, Ron Robinson elevated your soul. His obsession with the harmonica was a trademark. Just like what he did for theatre, Ron maintained dignity and creativity on radio even during the early stages of our cultural recession.
Keith Michael Austin was attracted to jazz as a youth growing up in Georgetown. He said his elderly neighbour played that genre so much that he grew to like it so that when Basil Hinds departed, he was ready to make his contributions to keep jazz alive on Guyana radio.
Pancho Carew will always be fondly remembered especially at Christmas time. He was a great broadcaster and dedicated his life to help in promoting local music.
There are many others who left their impressions on us. Let us hope that we thoughtfully saved samples of these recorded voices; so that upcoming generations can savour the brilliance and cultural decency of our radio icons. It is now signing off time. Hope you had pleasant memories. See you next time.