THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE – Corned Beef Man
ONE DAY IN APRIL 1986 in Soviet Russia, a badly designed nuclear plant blew its top. A sudden rapid surge in power output took place, and when an attempt was made for emergency shutdown, an unexpected and more extreme spike led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of explosions.The resulting big bang sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere that drifted over large parts of Europe. Over 336 000 people had to be evacuated. Thirty-one died immediately and many more would develop cancer and die since then.The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years while forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures.Thousands of miles away in Barbados, a 49-year-old engineer was also concerned about that disaster at Chernobyl and immediately alerted Barbadians through talk radio of possible effects from the radiation.Listeners were incredulous. How could such an event affect us all the way in Barbados? Alvin Thorpe had the answer: “Through the no-name corned beef we import from countries in Europe,” he asserted. He deduced that since large portions of Eastern Europe had had to be evacuated, it was logical to expect that the grass eaten by the cows – which later would become corned beef – would also have been contaminated.Mr Thorpe stayed “on message” for several weeks, if not months, and, as is the custom with Barbadian talk radio, acquired the sobriquet The Corned Beef Man. Over the years he would also be known as Mr Regular.He was a formidable opponent. I know. He called one night to engage me, as soon as I returned home from a radio programme in which I discussed noise pollution with the late VoB broadcaster Carl Scott. The lively exchange ended only after I told him that I knew quite well why he seemed so sympathetic to noise. On reflection, it was a low blow on my part but he took no offence and later became a quiet supporter of the efforts of The Society For A Quieter Barbados.He made a sterling contribution as an intervener whenever rate hearings were held by the Fair Trading Commission and its precursor the Public Utilities Board. He believed that ordinary citizens had a duty to make their voices heard.He was a persistent thorn in the side of many a moderator, demanding that they “go and do some investigative journalism”. A skirmish lost one morning might be reopened tomorrow or the following week. At times, when he thought himself hard done by, he would appeal to another moderator for a second hearing.His contributions were an eclectic mix. He rode several hobby horses, including weights and measures – an esoteric subject to many, but one he was passionate about – petrol calibration at the pump, the thickness of road surfaces, even the quality of seats in Transport Board buses. He understood the importance of accuracy, but sometimes would try to pass off nebulous concepts of his own design on unsuspecting moderators. He was never abusive and walked away when beaten. Near the end of his life he set off a week-long debate on the methods employed in the technical mechanics of landing an aircraft. Alvin Thorpe was the dean of Barbadian talk radio for more than three decades and joins that pantheon of contributors – augmented recently by the ubiquitous blogs on the Internet – who enriched the democratic process that Barbados practises, warts and all.He now communicates on a higher plane with other redoubtable stalwarts in that far-away broadcasters’ Valhalla – folks like The Cement Man, Mr Submissions, The Pastor From Bay Street, Luther The Philosopher Bayley, Leslie Seon, Vernon Fenty, Pastor Willoughby, Calvert Taylor and Silvester Edwards.
• Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.