Unlike so many other people, I was lucky enough to be, by God’s Grace, the “alpha and omega” of ttt (Trinidad and Tobago Television), the first television station that was launched in the West Indies if not the Caribbean in 1962.
Before the station signed on, to me television was the forbidden fruit. I say this because all my radio colleagues were going to America on vacation to observe what television was like in big countries. I recall Don Proudfoot, returning from the USA with pastel coloured suits as he said he was told the warm-tones would be ideal for television lighting. Others had various techniques that they learned from media classes abroad. I was comfortable in “radioland” with a programme, “Holly’s Happy Moments”, that I started in 1946 on the US Armed Forces radio service network – WVDI in Fort Reid, Trinidad. At that time, WVDI mainly serviced the armed forces throughout the Caribbean.
I was happy and content working for Radio Trinidad, reporting to Sam Ghany, the Sales Manager and to Mr. Ron Goodsman, an English gentleman who, at the time, was head of Rediffusion. Little did I know that Mr. Goodsman was to become the pioneer manager of the new television station.
While most of the radio personnel were taking up positions with the new television station, Mr. Goodsman said to me “If you could be as successful on television as you are on radio as a sales rep we can use you at the television station. Think about it and let me know how you feel.” My response was, “Thank you very much Mr. Goodsman, I am as well before the microphone on radio and if I can’t get before the cameras on television I’d rather stay on radio.” In response to me, Mr. Goodsman said, “Think about it and let me know!” He also said to me television is very much different to radio – you’re either a sales rep, where we need you, or a presenter”. During a subsequent conversation with Sam Ghany, he counseled, “don’t shoot yourself in the foot.” Both companies are the same and Mr. Goodsman is part of both. Think carefully about what you are doing. These discussions took place one year before the television station opened.
In a further conversation with Mr. Goodsman, unexpectedly he admitted to me that the response to television advertising was very poor and he wanted me to join the sales team and let’s take it from there.
I joined ttt in August of 1961 and my first success in Sales was the Kirpalani Group of Companies, Angostura Ltd., and a few stores on Frederick Street who bought airtime on ttt. I broke my on air presentation on the 31st of August 1962 – from 4:00 to 10:00 p. m. with several 5 minute promos congratulating the country on achieving its independence. Subsequently, these five-minute segments were converted into five-second “Spotlight” commercials.
Spotlight was an initiative that was introduced to bring small businesses on board to advertise their products and services on television. The aim was to reach a broader client base. A small crew of three, Michael Clarke, Gail Agostini and I travelled as a team throughout Trinidad and Tobago from store front to store front on a given street. The original concept was to sell and produce short commercials for insertion in the programme schedule that was to air the next day.
The team of Spotlight also included Roy Castillo, a close relative of Paul Castillo, the famous “Parang man” who hails from Arouca. Castillo knew the villages and towns inside out thereby making our assignments a lot easier. During one of our trips, his popularity served me well. Actually, he saved my life. I was going into a diabetic coma and he managed to rush me quickly to a local doctor.
As Carnival of 1963 approached, at one of the weekly meetings, I received the support of Programming and Sales (led by the late Neville Welch, Sales Manger) to host in-studio presentations from the various Calypso Tents with appearances from Sparrow, Melody and Kitchener. This programme was a triumphant success because it gave the viewers, many of whom never went to Calypso Tents, an opportunity to see the Calypsonians perform live.
Later, the General Manager also introduced an English-style advertising magazine called Ad Mags that featured the late Melina Scott. Subsequently Hazel Ward took over the hosting of the programme followed, much later by Allison Hennessey. This style of programming was directly designed to reach the homemakers who were particularly interested in purchasing the latest products for their homes.
Somewhere along the way there was a loud outcry for more and more local programming. This was widely reported in the media and the managerial staff took swift action to satisfy the television viewers. I immediately offered my talent and skills to host a programmed called Variety. With the support of the Programme Director, Mr. Barry Gordon, our first programme featured the Choy Aming Orchestra, Vilma Ali, the Mighty Sparrow and the Julia Edwards Dancers. Variety was a great triumph and it continued to showcase local entertainers for one year. The production costs for Variety were absorbed by the ttt, as there were very few commercials in the early stages of the programme. The success and popularity of Variety soon resulted in a sold out commercial situation.
Because of the success of Variety the Programme Director recognized that when Variety went off the air there would be a void. Immediately I suggested a talent contest.
During my early Boy Scout days, I took part in talent shows for which I won various badges. This sparked a quick reaction from Barry who said we should call the show “Scouting For Talent”. Again, I offered to host the show which aired live on ttt. Prior to each performance several hours were spent auditioning the talented and aspiring singers, dancers, musicians and any other performing artists who came to present samples of their work. To make it worthwhile for everybody concerned, I suggested that we solicit prizes from the business community in exchange for airtime. This collaboration demonstrated how businesses could benefit from their participation. It was a great success and an exciting time in television.
The first prize was either merchandize or cash to the tune of $1,000.00 with a token appearance fee. The first series ran for 8 preliminaries, 4 semi-finals and a final. The contests took off like a “house on fire” with sponsors knocking on the door. Mr. Goodsman then made a condition for clients advertising on Scouting. In order to participate on Scouting for Talent clients were required to book advertising of a certain value, as that segment became “prime” viewing in a short period of time. When I said to Mr. Goodsman jokingly “ isn’t that a little harsh” he said to me “nothing in jest said so true.” I have only 5 years to make a profit and he did.
It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the great contribution of Hazel Ward to the youth of the nation. She hosted the popular Teen Dance Party which was a youth-oriented programme. Many talented dancers and singers who appeared on Teen Dance Party eventually performed on Scouting for Talent.
At that time Scouting for Talent was a reality competition to search for the best talented artists in the country. The top prize on Scouting for Talent eventually included cars and “solid cash” plus return trips to the USA. In many cases, the winners achieved stardom in their respective categories in the USA, Canada and the UK. At one point in the life of Scouting for Talent, an accountant working with ttt “leaked out” information that Scouting for Talent revenue was paying the entire company salaries. There is no denying that everyone was given a chance to participate and win some lucrative awards.
During my television period, ‘Scouting for Talent’ produced numerous entertainers including names such as Poser, Sugar Aloes, Protector, United Sisters, Chalkdust, Singing Francine, Denise Plummer, and Crusoe Kid and among the best voices, Barbara Absalom and Patsy John. Also among the star performers was Selvon Walker, a dramatist, who appeared as a guest actor on ‘The Bill Cosby Show.” Eventually, he was able to spin his talent in movies and other television programmes.
Last, but by no means least, Aldwyn Alibino, Scouting for Talent musical director and accompanist was a musical genius beyond his years. He wowed and inspired audiences with his extraordinary repertoire of songs and harmonies that he could play entirely by memory. Later, Aldwyn migrated to Canada where his musical talents were further developed. He subsequently graduated from McGill University.
Scouting for Talent was the catalyst for audience engagement. This programme really got the audience engaged to the point that there was always a sense of discussion among the public about each night’s performance. Scouting, therefore, set the stage for other artistic programmes which showcased the cultural diversity of Trinidad and Tobago. Popular examples of Scouting were the Indian Variety show with Pat Mathura and Mastana Bahar with Sham Mohammad to name a few.The late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, attempted to further integrate the races of the nation and together with his sister-in-law Joyce Wong Sang, Director of the Prime Minister’s Best Village Competition, organized a community programme encompassing all the villages of the nation. The aim of the Best Village programme was to highlight the cultural traditions in the villages. The programme was also intended to highlight the ethnic diversity of our society namely the Africans, East Indians, Chinese, French Creole, Europeans and the Syrians. Best Village had many shortcomings but to some extent it evolved from handicraft to typical folk concerts with musical expressions such as the steelband and calypso.
One of the highlights of Best Village was the celebration of Siparia’s “hat trick” win of the competition. To honour this achievement, ttt, under the aegis of the then Programme Director, Farouk Mohammed, decided to film this milestone in Siparia, which is a town in southern Trinidad, south of Penal and west of Fyzabad. The whole village lined the streets and the people applauded and cheered as the television crew drove into the town. The crowds were bigger than any Carnival event in Siparia. The star of the event was, none other than, Daisy Voisin – the Parang Queen of Trinidad & Tobago. To top it all off she performed to the delight of the crowd.
To generate even greater interest in Best Village, I hosted a weekly show at the Trinidad Hilton that was also televised on ttt. To the present day, Best Village attracts our multi-ethnic society. The African and East Indian cultures are the main participants in the competition.
Another cultural expression featured on television was the Steelband Concert which I hosted on a weekly basis. In order not to upset the sensibilities of the various pan men, this programme had to be handled skillfully and this I managed with great success.
Just about every year prior to the Christmas Season, another local cultural expression “parang” which featured “merry making groups of serenaders” was introduced to the television audience. It featured the Spanish element of our culture, which originated from neighbouring Venezuela. This Spanish “Parranda” culture blended with that of the native Caribs of Trinidad and eventually the name evolved into what we now know as “Parang”. Every village had a group or elements of one and they appeared and performed on ttt. The Parang season ends on the 6th of January, on the feast of the Three Kings called La Wah.
Trinidad & Tobago Television (ttt) was an institution created in our twin islands. Over the years, nearly every living room had a television set and I was very proud and honoured to have been the host of programmes that aired on a weekly basis if not more often. Our presenters brought joy, sadness, information, culture and education to the viewing public. The onscreen presenters were also known to the viewers on a first name basis, just like one big family.
And then one day it seemed like the whole world crumbled. There was sadness, tears and by God’s grace there was hope. No, the whole world did not end, just our lifeline, ttt, which was part and parcel of the community for some 40 odd years, came to an abrupt end. Competition set in.
We were first, we did our best and now there are many to follow. In the closing days there were many hugs and kisses as well as sentimental recollections and then we all went our separate ways. Some of us are gone and by God’s Grace some of us are still around. It was an end of an era – God bless.