A historical day for Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago television signed on with its first black and white television transmission. The year was August 31st 1962. The moment the island of Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from British control. Composer Pat Castagne wrote the lyrics for the national anthem of Trinidad and Tobago. -“Let every creed and race find an equal place, and may God bless our nation”. This theme was heard throughout the day from radio stations 7:30 and 6:10. The newly designed flag comprising of colors red, black and white flew aloft government buildings, including our all new television station ttt (Trinidad and Tobago Television) on #11b Maraval Road Port-of-Spain. This was the day that no one or I would ever forget.

This was indeed the chance many Trinbagonians had, the opportunity of viewing a live television broadcast. Many of them were on their rooftops adjusting their directional horizontal TV antennas to receive the best gamma signal match possible. The kiskadee and picoplat birds fought for perched priority on the shaky antenors; bird droppings discolored and stained the galvanized rooftops, but no one ever complained. It was the price we paid for having TV. Prior to this, we were accustomed to listening to radio transmissions, some of us with eyes closed trying to hallucinate or create a picture in our minds as we attentively listened to popular radio aired programs, such as “second spring.” TV the new medium changed this for us, thus creating an all new media dimensions. (Once Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission had it’s power running). No TV during black outs.

The commercial sale of television sets sold in abundances throughout our new nation. The shiny mahogany cabinets prominently adorned our living rooms. The most popular set was the large 20-inch TV format. With channels 3 and 13 to tune in depending on where one lived, it became the channel of choice or demand. These live broadcast programs with news, politics, sport etc were transmitted until 11:00pm. The ttt television then signed off for the night with a live picture of the newly acclaimed Trinidad and Tobago flag fluttering in the tropical breeze accompanied with the audio transmission playing the tune of the national anthem of Trinidad and Tobago. We then saw the color bars (though in black and white) until the following morning when the broadcasting resumed. – There was no TV hand held remote converters to fiddle with. -Switch on / switch off.

This era of live television quickly became the norm for relaxation in Trinidad and Tobago, for those of us who could have afforded a TV set; it was a joy and envy of the neighborhood. Friends were invited to come over to watch TV. So much so, that bars and nightclubs outfitted their establishments with TV sets mounted high on walls so that participants were entertained as they drank their favorite Carib beer or Fernandez Rum. Trinidad then had its own TV stars to be admired, like Sam Ghany or Melinda Scott and Mervin Telpher. PANORAMA was the favorite nightly show. “Don’t sit too close to the TV set – you will hurt your eyes” the older generation exclaimed. I was intrigued with the frequent commercials advertising showing all of the world’s goodies. Store merchants had TV sets in the show windows and a gathering of people stood outside to watch the TV news and other programs such as “scouting for talent” with TV host (saga boy) Holley “B” We marveled with the fluent “from Head” sport commentary with Raffie Knowles.

But this should not be a new venture for Trinidadians, since some of the concepts for television – John Logie Baird pioneered broadcasting in Trinidad on 22 January 1926 in his small backyard laboratory located in the hills of Santa Cruz. John Baird managed to surpass them all with very little money; a handful of unpaid helpers and equipment pieced together using rather unconventional materials. Although large companies with great financial support were also working on the phenomena of television, Baird managed to surpass them all. For example, Baird’s choice of mechanical scanning as the most effective way of achieving true television required the use of spinning discs – which of financial necessity were made of hatboxes and mounted on coffin lids. His electronic experiments did not survive for any length of time in Trinidad because the neighbors in the Santa Cruz area where he dwelled once saw blue and green lights flashing from his home at night, and coffin lids propped up in his backyard, they thought that the young scientist was practicing obeah, He was then stoned out from his dwelling, and was forced to regain his residency in Scotland.

I was employed as a photographic inspector working with the Electoral office. Louis Sorzano and Michael Clarke worked with me in the same capacity. These two well renowned photographers left the Electoral office to take up positions as cine -journalists with Trinidad and Tobago Television. About nine months later, I began working with ttt as a freelance sin photographer, on a contract basis. We all worked as a team with high spirits and enthusiasm. Farouk Muhammad was our program director. We covered all the horse racing events at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Cricket live from the Oval, Live carnival coverage, Golf club tournaments, news, political assignments, documentaries, car racing coverage in Guyana, we made our own commercials and covered all social events relating to television. The equipment we used was somewhat primitive, to say the least, “hand wound cameras” but with our editing skills combined with other hidden talents we were able to provide our viewers with a high quality end result. No one knew what went on behind the scenes.

We worked with strict deadlines ahead of us, often enough, we had to retrieve wet film coming out from the processor, and we ran to the editing room and begin editing in order to meet those stringent deadlines. But as we always said the show must go on, and it did. We sat back and watch the news unfolds on a TV set in the staff lounge. This I believe was a tribute to job satisfaction in every regard.

I was indeed deeply saddened to receive the news that ttt Trinidad and Tobago Television is now a historical sight in the heart of Trinidad. Its doors are shut tight and no signals are transmitted. 43 years of faithful and devoted service gone unnoticed. What a shame… I often ponder over my employee badge ttt, and reminisce or evoke the good days we had. In my opinion, – It was a major change in electronic technology and that was “The true spirit of Trinidad and Tobago.”