The Demise of NBN – A Double Whammy For Me Personally

Neil Giuseppi, writing in another paper recently, opened his article with the words: “I shed a tear last Friday night.  I shed a tear as I watched the end of an era in Trinidad and Tobago.”  He was, of course, writing about the demise of the National Broadcasting Network (NBN).  And as I read his reminiscences, many of which were also mine, I shed a tear too.

If people remember me as a broadcaster at all, it is usually for my TTT years.  But there may just be some older folk who have not forgotten that I was also among those “privileged” few who opened Radio Guardian (610) in September 1957.  Becoming part of the NBN network later, this radio station too has now been silenced.  So, a double whammy for me

 As much as I loved TTT, there will always remain within me a soft spot for 610.  Just as Neil learned his craft at TTT, so too did I learn mine at 610.  And I was fortunate enough to be taught by some of the giants of radio broadcasting, among them people like Larry Heywood, Frank Hughes and Ed Fung.

While Larry and Frank turned me into an announcer, it was Ed who, as Chief Editor, virtually took me by the hand and taught me the secrets of good radio news writing and the subtleties of being a broadcast journalist.  I never looked back, going on to take his place as Chief Editor when he was promoted out of the newsroom.  And what a newsroom!

We had pioneered the concept of news every hour on the hour, leaving the competition, Radio Trinidad, to re-think its schedule which catered for just a few bulletins spread over the broadcast day.  The 17 hours we remained on air each day were covered by only four of us: Ed, myself, ace reporter John Babb and Mr Cool himself, Geoff Lewis.

I have lost track of the big voices on 610 in the latter years.  But no one among those who listened to the station from its inception could ever forget Mr Perfection, Desmond Bourne; the man with the voice that boomed like thunder, John Betaudier; Mr Fluency, Freddie Wharwood; Mr Laid-back, Ashton Chambers; and the wee Scottish lass, Nelleen Samuel.

The station was part of history too.  You do not often hear anything now about the Federation of the West Indies and it would not surprise me if there are young people today who never heard that we were once part of a Federation.  Federal House was located just around the block from 610.

Federal Broadcasting Officer Alva Clarke came over to 610 studios to edit and produce his programmes and if a technical operator was unavailable but a studio was free, we would work together on those programmes.  Many a decision on what to broadcast and what to leave out were made by Alva and myself in 610’s Studio B.

There is so much more to tell but since I remained at 610 merely for its first four years, I would leave that for others to chronicle.  After 610, I went to work as an announcer at Barbados Rediffusion and, later, as an international fonctionnaire at one of the United Nations specialised agencies in Geneva.

I returned to Trinidad in the late sixties and accepted the post of News Director/Panorama Producer which was just vacated by Lloyd Rohlehr.  Lloyd was a hard act to follow but, with help from people like Barry Gordon, Farouk Muhammad, Sonny Rawlins and Horace Harragin, who was a senior newsman, I managed to take the programme forward.

 It was during this time that Neil joined the newsroom.  And so too did Dale Kolasingh.  Ed Fung joined us a bit later.  Equipment was scarce and sometimes unreliable.  It is a long time now, some 30 years since I left TTT, and memory fades.  But Neil will bear me out when I say that, in the early days, we mostly covered the news with two hand-held 16-mm film cameras.

I know it is hard to believe in this video era but, in those days, we shot silent negative film on 100-foot rolls which were good for less than three minutes running time.  Film stock itself was rationed (for reasons of economy) and it was not uncommon for us to cover three short stories with one roll of film by mentally editing while we shot.

Shooting news for us were Michael Clarke and Leslie Thornhill, both of whom later went overseas to bigger things.  But they were not always available.  I took Neil and Dale to the Queen’s Park Savannah one afternoon and gave them a quick lesson in the use of a camera.  Framing, F-stop, Focus and a steady hand.  Incredibly, they shot beautiful pictures!

 On the more serious side, I remember our coverage of the black power demonstrations and our attempts to put things into perspective for our viewers by doing a series of interviews with Dr Eric Williams under the title, From Columbus to Castro.  It seems impossible in the circumstances but I did those interviews live in TTT’s studios!

 Also live was another series of interviews which I did with Justice Telford Georges on the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.  It was the long consultation period that led to constitutional reform and the birth of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  Those interviews, hopefully, brought the significance of the proposed constitutional change to the public.

Then, there were the other memorable interviews I did, also live, with President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim who later became President of Austria but who was also accused of being a Nazi, OAS Secretary-General Galo Plaza, and a number of delightful Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Miss World and Miss Universe.

 And of course, cricket.  It was in 1968, I think, with England touring the West Indies.  TTT viewers were treated to live cricket coverage for the first time, and with instant replay as well.  I tell people here in the UK that we covered it with just two cameras and they cannot believe it.  Nor would our viewers who were absolutely delighted with the coverage.

Yes, indeed.  A double whammy for me, TTTand 610.  Neil ended his reminiscences with a quote from the immortal Shakespeare.  I will end with an immortal quote as well, although I cannot remember more than the first few words.  Nor can I remember where it comes from.  But perhaps you can.  “Bring me my weeping vase that I may shed a tear…”

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