Talking, talking . . . for 40 years
ALTHOUGH STYMIED by the straitjacket of the laws of libel and slander, talk radio can still proudly celebrate 40 years of its contribution to the form of democracy we practise in Barbados.
Today’s reflections are flawed figments of the memory of an observer of the growth of what the late Desmond Bourne once labelled “radio activity” – the technological breakthrough that allowed listeners, via the telephone, to talk back.
Just as I prepared to leave Barbados Rediffusion in 1973 to join a group of newspaper friends to launch The Nation, the idea of call-in radio had begun to take shape in the planning of broadcasters Frank Pardo and Alfred Pragnell, as well as others at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The robust version Barbadians and others, via the Internet, now enjoy, and in many cases are addicted to, is a far cry from 40 years ago. Callers were recorded well in advance of the programme – now called a show – going on the air.
Programmes named Share, Heartbreak Hotel, Here To Care, Getting Down To Brass Tacks, Tell It Like It Is, Guttaperk, Fishcakes And Bakes, The Things We Do For Love, Talk-Yuh-Talk, Money Talks (hosts Lemuel Rawlins and Anthony “Tony” Johnson alternating), Standpipe and Fitness Line (with Roy and Maggie Callender) took to the airwaves over the years with moderators Frank Pardo, Elombe, Patrick Gollop, Win Callender, Canon Andrew Hatch, Rev. Peter Fenty (now a bishop in Toronto), Philip Goddard, Oliver Jackman, Wendell Callender, Leslie Seon, Julian Rogers, Claude Graham and Mike Maycock, to recall a few.
Some moderators have been elevated to higher vocations since then. Topping the list is the Chief Justice of Barbados, Sir Marston Gibson, a former CBC moderator. Also called to higher service were Senators Maxine McClean, Harcourt “Harry” Husbands and Keith “Tony” Marshall. Larry Mayers’ community outreach at the CBC earned him the accolade of OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year.
The list of moderators includes Wendell McClean, Leonard St Hill, Sydney Simmons, Glenroy Straughn, Dr Sally Cools, Dr Yvette Delph, Dr Erskine Simmons, Dr Don Marshall, Dr Akhentoolove Corbin, Dr Elliot Doughlin, Philip Pilgrim, Vere Brathwaite, Mark Forde, Sheridan Reece, Tom Field, Lionel Craig, Gwen Reader, Miles Rothwell, George Griffith, Phyllis Roett, Pastor Victor Roach, Jeff Broomes, David Comissiong, Rev. Dr Gordon Matthews, Mark Williams, Sir Frederick Smith, Keith Simmons, Edward Cumberbatch, Coleridge Pilgrim and Keith Laurie; and whatever became of Scharon Millington, for a brief moment the Oprah of afternoon radio?
Listeners have become accustomed to the voices of David Ellis, Dennis Johnson, Stetson Babb, Ian “Cupid” Gill, Maureen Holder, John Lovell, Marsha Hinds-Layne, Shantal Munro-Knight, Matthew Farley, Ralph Jemmott, Patrick Hoyos, Peter Wickham, Corey Layne and Nefertari Caddle.
The list of frequent callers is longer: Ivan “The Economist” or “Senator” Linton, Vincent Layne, “Mr P”, “Miss P”, Mark Williams, Mark Wilson – I hope he lives to see the restoration of the dry dock, “Mr Agriculture”, Rawle “Relentless/Remarkable” Smith, Sandy Kellman – the primary school teacher, Anthony Wiggins, Earl Browne, Wesley – always ready with a programme critique, “Miss Africa”, “Tall boy”, Denis Kellman MP, Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt, Rawle Maycock – who continues to call from Philadelphia, Marjorie Holder – the oral historian, Ann Rudder, “Mr Metaphysics”, “Miss Foundation”, “Miss Undecided”, Mr Harper, Winnie the “Jamaican lady”, the “Trinidadian lady”, Marcelle – who knows the birthdays of the entire population of St Philip, and the indefatigable Arthur – he tangles regularly with moderators over accuracy.
Seldom heard these days are Bunny “ The most intelligent man/the greatest composer” Alleyne, Julian Glyne Williams Hunte, John Blackman, Don “This is Don” Millington, John Edwards, Horace Green, and the engineering Richardson brothers; “Woody”, almost 100, is the repository of the history of the Barbados Water Authority.
I remember Miriam Burke’s paean to the virtues of flogging. She proudly broadcast one morning: “I have scars on my skin now from my mother, and they include a hammer, a four-pound weight, a bucket and a Coke bottle.”
To this listener, the most memorable callers have now passed on: Duncan “Mr Submissions” Neblett, the Nemesis of government borrowing and public debt, and the only person to confer an honorary doctorate on me; Astor “The Cement Man” Marshall – remembered for his wacky ideas: “We must panic; we must manufacture ammunition; we must beg more, to reduce the need to steal; we must ‘breed’ more, to increase the population.” His son, Dr Don, was more measured and less ebullient.
The list of the deceased continues with Vernon “Vernie” Hinds – noted for his attempt to identify the “halls” of Barbados: Arch Hall, Welchman Hall, Chance Hall, Bank Hall, Bush Hall, Briar Hall, Harmony Hall, Easy Hall, etc, etc. “Vernie’s” last pronouncement was to put his vote up for sale. He died before the February 21 general election and could not have been among those the Prime Minister saw selling theirs.
Other colourful call-in regulars were Pastor Willoughby, Luther Bailey, Calvert Taylor, Vernon Fenty and Keith “Farouk” Phillips, known as “The Pastor from Bay Street” – he could recall every epic movie shown at the Empire Theatre in Bridgetown.
Then there was Alvin Thorpe, champion of weights and measures. He earned the sobriquet “The Corned Beef Man” after the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986 when he warned Barbadians not to eat any “radioactive” corned beef imported from Eastern Europe.
Also, Sylvester Edwards, whose charming daughter, Lisa, would become my daughter-in-law two years ago.
These days the ruling Democratic Labour Party is missing one of its most stoic defenders in Enid Doyle. She was never offensive or ruffled, but seldom yielded to moderators.
Talking is what we Barbadians do best. Action takes much longer.
We are a nation of talkers – a condition assisted by radio stations that have devoted nearly all their prime time to talk for the past 40 years.
• Carl Moore was the first editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator. Email [email protected]