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…”

My TTT Experience

One sunny day in June 1962 I responded to an advertisement in the Trinidad Guardian for television technicians and operators. Some time later, I received a letter inviting me to attend an interview at 11a Maraval Road. On the day of the interview, I decided to take a taxi and actually got out in downtown Port of Spain to walk to the address on my letter. In my commute there,  I thought to myself this is not getting me anywhere as it seems I had been walking for a long time. Finally, when I got as far as Wrightson Road I noticed a police officer standing in front of the Licensing Office; I approached him to inquire if he knew the location of Trinidad and Tobago Television (ttt) on Maraval Road. He immediately responded that he had never heard of such a place but he knew for sure there is a Radio Trinidad on Maraval Road. He pointed in the direction, so I walked up French Street which leads into Maraval Road and began counting the numbers. Not being familiar with the area, Maraval Road appeared to me to be quite a distance from where I started off. By the time I got to the address I was dripping with perspiration , my white shirt was sticking to my body and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable and worried about my appearance for the interview.

In the distance I noticed a young man casually walking in my direction. When he got closer I said to him, “I am looking for a place by the name of Trinidad and Tobago Television (ttt), have you seen any building by that name around here”? He replied, “who are you looking for at ttt?”  I explained to him that I have an interview with someone there. He further questioned me by asking for the name of the person.  When I provided him with the name of Joan Ciprani which was written on my letter, he very enthusiastically said, “let me take you directly to that office.” That young man’s name is Shaffique Mohammed.
 Joan Ciprani, the secretary of the General Manager escorted me to the office of Ronald F. Goodsman and the Chief Engineer, Bill Corkhill who was in his office at the time interviewing the candidates for the job.  Goodsman then said to me “do have a seat” while Corkhill started asking me a batch of technical questions, one after the other, which I answered to the best of my knowledge.  To my surprise, none of the questions during the interview was television related.  They were rather connected to my work at Edgar H. Borde Telecommunications where I was a trainee technician at the time.  
One month later during the first week of July 1962, I received additional correspondence   informing me that I must report for the job at ttt on July 20th. On my first day of work, I met two gentlemen by the name of Deighton Parris and Wendell Case in the engineering section. I must admit that I had no idea that this meeting was a turning point that was going to change my life forever.
I remember very vividly Corkhill giving Case and I a tour of the premises which was under construction at the time. He pointed out several locations and identified the areas where he wanted us to start installation of cables and equipment.
 The television vocabulary was new to me at that time but I tried to keep abreast of the instructions which he gave to us indicating the layout of different studios and projection areas. He also pointed out the location of Master Control, Telecine, Presentation Studio, and Studio B which was the main Studio of the Station. The announcer’s booth was situated in the technical area next to Telecine and Master Control in order to allow visual contact between the people in the two locations.  It is very important in television for the announcer to be able to receive cues from the Director of the programme, who sits in Master Control.
After the tour, we were assigned to start work immediately on the installation of equipment in some of the areas I mentioned earlier. We had the responsibility to lay both video and audio cables for the entire television station including the Studio Transmitter Link (STL) which was known as channel 13.  

Later that week, I recall that we were summoned to a meeting by Ronald Goodsman and Barry Gordon, the Programme Director who came from Canada to set up the Station. This meeting was specifically to work out the scenario for the Independence Day ceremony which was the first ever outside live transmission from the Red House on August 31, 1962.  With all the assigned tasks still to be accomplished, I was extremely dubious as to how this event was going to materialize?  We were all relieved to learn from Mr. Goodsman that a CBS Mobile Crew would be coming in from New York to help us carry out the broadcast assignment. It so happen the CBS group of technicians and engineers were on the cutting edge of television broadcasting. They installed
A microwave link from the Parliament building to Television House along with some oversized television cameras and lights located on scaffolding both inside and outside of the Red House in the administrative district of Port of Spain. 

Mervyn Telfer, who was the duty announcer at the time, signed on the station from a make shift studio located at 11a Maraval Road. These rehearsals were used as “test runs” several days before the main event from the Red House. That temporary studio would later become the Accounts Office of the Station. It turned out that the television transmission from the Red House was flawless; it was professionalism at its best.

TTT building was under construction for several weeks following that inaugural transmission from the Red House and it was officially declared open in November 1962 by the Honorable Dr. Patrick Solomon, a Member of Parliament, in the presences of other dignitaries and government officials.

I remember ttt, the organization that reflected the birth of a nation and the people I worked with give me a sense of connection. In Programming, I had the pleasure of working with colleagues who have become life long friends such as  Barry Gordon, Farouk Muhammad, Errol Harrylal, Michael Clarke, Robert Archibald, Oswald Maingot, Louis Sorzano, Charles Maglore, Miley Duke, Tony Lautchman, Victor Daniel, and many more names too numerous to mention. In the Engineering department there were people like Bill Corkhill, Jack Elvyn, Allan Hay, Clive Adams, Myrna Pilgrim, Wendell Case, and Deighton Parris.

After working for a few years at ttt, I developed enthusiasm and passion for television broadcasting.  Later, I decided to commit myself to several years of training and studies abroad in order to succeed in this field.
Having made up my mind, shortly after making this decision I migrated to the United Kingdom where I received the best formal training in Europe. I obtained my graduate ship (Grad. Dip) In Electronic & Telecommunications Engineering from the Engineering Council (UK) United Kingdom as well as Registration from the (IEE) Institution of Electrical Engineers in the United Kingdom.  After my studies, and before leaving the UK, a group tour was organized for the graduates to visit the BBC and ITN which was something I always wanted to do. I must admit that this was a learning experience which I cherish up to this day.
Although my ambition was to return to Trinidad, but fate would guide me instead to the United States of America to  the American Broadcasting Company (ABC- TV channel 7) where  I applied for a position. I was successful and was offered employment.
While employed at ABC-TV, I was given the opportunity to work as an Engineering support staff on several major special events such as the Olympic Games and political conventions which aired on such programmes as 20/20, Prime Time news broadcasts from remote locations. I have traveled throughout the USA on various sports assignments, which included several trips to San Francisco, California.  I received a number of specialized training courses from Ampex, Grass Valley, Mc Curdy, and Sony equipment which were sponsored courtesy of ABC Network Television Inc.   
During my tenure at that Station, I had the opportunity to work with celebrities, US Presidents and some of the most famous names in television broadcasting news.
Over the years some research was conducted on the reasons why television stations fail after   successive years of broadcasting.  Personally, I don’t know why ttt failed but what I have learnt is that no one so far has  been able to determine the reason for the demise of any television station except, possibly, change of ownership. Another possible reason may be inappropriate for me to really articulate at this time, so I will stand by the golden rule of silence. 
However, I will forever owe a debt of gratitude to ttt for the opportunity of a life time. There isn’t any thing I can add that wasn’t already mentioned by all the contributors, but I do know ttt changed many of our lives forever.
                                                             * * *

Lloyd Rohlehr was a ttt Pioneer

Lloyd Rohler - ttt first news director.jpg

Sitting on a pile of concrete blocks typing news even before the Trinidad and Tobago Television building under construction was declared officially open by Dr. Patrick Solomon, the minister of home affairs, is one of Lloyd Rohlehr’s ttt memories.

Lloyd recalls, too, doing film stories around town with Bob Archibald taking care of the cinematography indoors and outdoors. And among the very first newsreaders were Mervyn Telfer, Clyde Alleyne and Errol Chevalier looking into a camera in a makeshift presentation studio.

Experienced programme director Barry Gordon from Canada was cool and confident. To Lloyd, physical inconveniences amidst hurry and challenge were secondary to the thrill of having television.

This was a noticing of Vidya Naipaul’s enigma of arrival or something imagined byCharles Dickens. And in a brand new building that was modest and elegant, and boasted a large mural inside.
Thanks to London’s Associated Rediffusion which had already made a success of Radio Trinidad. And Roy Thomson, a Canadian-born media world figure who wasconsidered the ideal owner of newspapers, refusing to interfere in editorial policy.

Thomson was made a baron in 1964.That same year ttt‘s Panorama was launched out of earlier newsmagazine-like beginnings.

A Walter Winchell-type of columnist/radio commentator, Paul O’Hara (Paul Persaud) back in Guyana where Lloyd came from called him a star reporter.

A passion for the news life and a farther reach professionally had something to do with it. Not forgetting a tough role model in the person of Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Seal Coon, editor of the Daily Argosy newspaper where Lloyd was a young reporter. Seal Coon was a trim former British Army officer.

Caribbean matters were an appetite for Lloyd Rohlehr. By the time the West Indian Federation was in stride he was a federal civil servant based in Port of Spain. He was picked by Prime Minister Adams to be personal aide to Sir Arthur Lewis, the famous West Indian economist in his honorary mission through the West Indies aiming at the creation of a Little Eight to rescue the federal experiment at a moment when a breakup of the Federation was imminent.

Dr.Lewis was based in Jamaica as head of the University College of the West Indies (later UWI).

On Sept. 15, 1962 Lloyd, already appointed but not yet free, reported for work at Trinidad and Tobago Television as its news producer, and he was with the station until December 31, 1968, when he took a public affairs position with the United States Embassy, two blocks away, up Marli Street.

Still later, he made his home in Los Angeles, California. Along the way, however, he had become a Fellow of Thomson Foundation Television College in Scotland and then enlarged on his expertise in his new hometown Los Angeles by attending, off-campus, the film school of the University of Southern California. Brian de Palma was a full time
student here. And so were Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Some say that these guys wanted to change the world and they did. And one of Lloyd’s lecturers was Robert Wise, whohad produced and directed the immortal Hollywood
movie, The Sound of Music.

For an international energy engineering firm Lloyd wrote and directed, on staff, many films and the company’s audience included Europe and the Far East.

He had for eight years written the current affairs for seniors script for the Trinidad and Tobago Broadcast to Schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District had him write and direct a number of their films, too, and got a listing in the Los Angeles Times

Lloyd says that all his professional life he had heard, and shared, the advice about script writing: “Keep it tight”. In the studio at Irvine, California, one Saturday morning, a film he had made was being dubbed into Korean and the voice work was being done by a man from that country. The old advice proved his ultimate test.

Routinely, one cannot at this stage change the length of a film; hardly the choice of words used, and definitely not the minutes or seconds one had at one’s disposal. But, the Korean input saved the day.