A salute to the golden age of radio

Guyana Chronicle
May 31, 1999

WE WISH to join our voice to the chorus of congratulations on the occasion of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation's 20th anniversary. The many telephone calls last from former Guyanese radio personalities at home and abroad triggered floods of memories about manners and customs of a now bygone age. Perhaps it is the nostalgia that has softened the edges of memory and now presents a picture of kinder, gentler times in Guyanese life.

For those who grew up in the 1950s, radio will forever be defined by the cultured tones of Ms Olga Lopes-Seale [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] as she helped in shaping the raw talents of children on the Ovaltine Show, while introducing them to the wonders of basic transmission and the sound-proof studio. In that era, Ms Lopes-Seale would begin, what must have been one of the earliest forms of advocacy journalism when she brought to the attention of the nation, the abject poverty in which some families existed. That was the genesis of the Radio Demerara Children's Fund. which still brings relief to thousands of children at Christmas time some four decades later.

In those days, radio was the only medium and people depended on it for information, and entertainment as well as companionship and the sense it gave of linking one to the rest of the nation as well as to the outside world. During the turbulent years of the early 1960s, radio was the medium used by the Governors of colonial Guyana to inform the nation of important developments and also to warn terrorists and saboteur to cease and desist from their incendiary activities. One had to be in constant contact with one's Grundig or Murphy radio to know whether it was safe to go downtown or to the municipal markets, or whether a dusk -to-dawn. curfew had been announced, which meant that British soldiers and other security forces were on the streets and had been given orders to shoot those who dared to disobey. Many old-timers could no doubt recall Rafiq Khan's BBC-trained tones unctuously reading the report of the Commission of Inquiry into one of the civil disturbances of the 1960s. The nation would again be awed by Rafiq Khan's flawless diction when he recounted his experiences while being trapped in Chile at the time of the junta that ousted President Allende on September 11, 1973.

In the less tumultuous times of the 1970s, there commenced a vibrant style of radio, one in which broadcasters were not just occupied with announcing or reading the news. They began covering events and conducting interviews with newsmakers. This was the time of the Ron Sanders generation, and who could forget the brilliant interviews he held with world statesmen when Guyana hosted the conference of the Foreign Ministers of the Non -Aligned Movement Movement (NAM) in 1972? People came to realise that radio announcers were not just good voices, but that they could be competent broadcast journalists who were informed on world affairs and had an accurate understanding of Guyana's place in the arena of international affairs. And ,as odd as it may seem to the 20-something generation, the notion of a country's place in the time of the 1970s was of crucial importance, since the Cold War had virtually divided the countries of the world into two blocs and so it was politically sensible to be aware of the positioning of small states in the constellation of the superpowers..

While it is impossible for anyone to properly pay homage to all the broadcasters and radio personalities, who through their work over the years, brought pleasure and comfort to the body of listeners, some outstanding practitioners must be singled out. And this special band of persons would include Hugh Cholmondeley, Vic Insanally, Yonette D'Anrade, Carlton James, James Sydney, Terry Holder, Pat Cameron, Ayube Hamid, Bertie Chancellor, Ken Corsbie, Ron Phillips, Phyllis Jackson, Hugh Hamilton, Keith Michael Austin., Ray Robinson, Ron Robinson, Ron Savory, Margaret Lawrence and Leslyn Grant

The perennial debate about radio and television is almost a non-issue, since both have their specific functions, and while the visual is a powerful attraction to a broad cross-section of persons worldwide, radio remains an extremely popular medium especially with mature minds. One of the wonders of radio is that it engages the senses in a way that television does not since a succession of images about certain topics do not require much mental interaction. They are there in front of the viewer and therefore he does not have to conjure up pictures from what he is hearing, or translate sounds into images. Pictures of happenings in hotspots such as Kosovo or Kashmir will of course produce a tremendous impact on viewers on the other side of the world. And there are events like World Cup Football, and the Miss Universe contest whose immediate transmission by telecast is unchallenged by any other medium. But, for the basic dissemination of news, documentary programmes, classical music concerts , jazz and popular music, true aficionados of radio believe the medium to be irreplaceable.

Radio in Guyana, like many other institutions, has weathered some critical times. Yet, the response to most call-in programmes, proves that the medium enjoys a tremendous following. We wish the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation many more decades of fruitful service to the nation.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples