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.
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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.

The Early Years


The year was 1964 and the month was July, roughly two years after TTT began its operation in Trinidad & Tobago.

I distinctly remember walking through the corridor leading from the Sales Department where I had just concluded business on behalf of a client for Corbin Advertising when I met Barry Gordon, the Thompson representative at ttt who was also Programme Director with the Station. We chatted for a moment and then Barry invited me to his office because as he put it, there was something he wished to discuss with me.

I never expected what was to come next and was very surprised when asked if I would be interested in joining the staff of ttt. Naturally, the invitation left me speechless for a few seconds and my immediate reaction was that I knew very little about the television industry. Barry then explained to me that he and the other expatriates were there to get the station up and running and they were mandated to employ and train locals like myself to eventually take over the entire operation.

My next visit to Television House was for an interview with the General Manager, Ronald Goodsman and the job offered to me was that of assistant to Charlie Moore, specifically in the area of programme promotional writing and commercial production.

It was mid-October of 1964 when I joined the company and began what was to be a career in an industry that shaped my life forever.

The learning process did not come easily. In fact, it was by trial and error because from simply writing commercial and promotional scripts, I was also called upon to report and write news stories under the very competent guidance of Lloyd Rohlehr, the Head of News. I remember also being taught the hard way how to use a hand-held film camera.

On Barry’s instructions, Louis Sorzano and Michael Clarke, two very experienced Cameramen taught me how to load film into a Bell & Howell Camera and I was told to go out that weekend and shoot anything I felt like. On the Monday when I returned with the film and had it processed, most of the scenes were either out of focus, too jerky and generally horrible. But, I soon got the hang of it and improved as time went by.

George Tang, another Cameraman was assigned to teach me editing and that too took some painstaking weeks. A few years later this process paid off handsomely because I was selected as the Cameraman to accompany Hazel Ward to Expo 67 in Montreal.

There are so many fantastic memories about the early years at Television House that it would take chapters to really put it all together, but here are a few that readily come to mind. One area that was truly amazing, was our coverage of Horse Racing which was done on film, hustled back to the station, processed, edited and ready for transmission following the news. In those days, the grand old man of sport Raffie Knowles voiced each race without a prepared script just like he did in his sports segment of Panorama.

Charlie Moore decided that the time was right for me to be exposed to work in the studio and again at times looking and feeling totally ridiculous I sat in the Control Room and made silly mistakes, but learned and soon became quite efficient as a Director of programmes and later on, Video Taped Commercials. Then, there was that unforgettable day that the Duty Announcer was late in arriving to sign on the station and I happened to be standing in the Control Room just listening to Barry Gordon as he tried to figure out what should be done with just about ten minutes before “Sign On” time.

I then put my foot into my mouth by stating quite openly that I could do it because signing on the station and reading a few scripted news headlines was no big deal. Barry immediately got me a jacket which was at least two sizes too big and with the help of Miley Duke and Charles Magloire, I was ushered into the Presentation Studio, seated and lit, and before I even had time to look over the script, there I was on the air with a cue from Shaffick Mohammed who was at Master Control that evening. Somehow or other, I managed to stare straight into the lens of the camera, look professional and get over the most nerve-racking five minutes of my life. There was laughter and even congratulations throughout the Technical Area and it was also the start of another step for me in television. Thereafter, I was given a lot of voice work, but not too many on air appearances because the station had its full complement of full-time as well as free-lance personalities.

My second and perhaps most nervous on air appearance occurred about a year or so later and again it was because of a mix-up with presenters. Don Proudfoot was scheduled to host an advertising magazine programme called Showcase, but thought that Melina Scott was the host. So, neither showed up for the LIVE presentation. Once again, there was Barry Gordon at my desk and without even asking whether I could handle such a task, he put that old funny smelling jacket on me again and took me down to Studio “B”.

This time I was able to get in a couple rehearsals and the guys on the floor really helped by scribbling pointers on the floor behind each of the products.

Naturally, I was nowhere as good as Don or Melina, but with sweaty palms hanging out of the big jacket, I made it and none of the clients complained. And so, the learning process continued with the generous help of so many people at all levels…Barry Gordon, Charlie Moore, Farouk Muhammad, Lloyd Rohlehr, Hazel Ward, Miley Duke, Charles Magloire, Shaffick Mohammed, Hugh Pierre, Victor Daniel, Louis Sorzano, Michael Clarke, George Tang, Errol Harrylal and others too numerous to mention. Training was a priority in those early days and although most of it was hands-on at the station, a number of overseas courses in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. were arranged for many members of the staff.

The Chief Engineer in the early days was Jack Elvin from the BBC and his assistant, also from the BBC was Graham Shaw. Eventually, they both returned to the UK and Deighton Parris took over as Chief Engineer with Jim Richards as his assistant. In the Commercial Production Department, Charlie Moore returned to Canada and I was then promoted to Commercial Production Director, a position I held for about four years until Farouk Muhammad took over from Barry Gordon as Programme Director and I became Farouk’s assistant.

No article about the early years will be complete without mentioning the names of some of the staff that worked so conscientiously to get ttt off the ground and assisted in making it the number one station in the English speaking Caribbean.

In the area of programming, Barry Gordon and Farouk Muhammad stand out. Farouk for instance, was responsible for contracting Sesame Street and the day the programme was launched is still very clear in my mind. He was also one of the founders of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, an organization that has grown in strength over the years.

Then, there was Charlie Moore who sharpened the technical and production skills of so many. When General Manager Ronald Goodsman returned to the UK, the first local to occupy the GM’s chair was Sonny Rawlins. Like me when I joined, Sonny Rawlins was absolutely clueless about the industry and his learning process much different to mine. However, his managerial skills garnered over years employed with the Hi/Lo Food Chain soon set him on the right path and he went on to head the organization in a truly professional manner for quite a number of years.

In those early years of the station’s growth, every member of the rather small staff in all departments displayed a keen interest in their specific duties, ensuring that everything came together before every transmission commenced. For instance, in Programming, the department to which I was assigned there was a team supervised by Ethel Bethelmy. This very dedicated group comprised staff like Ann Winston, Claudine Pantin, Eunice Lyder, Marilyn Leong Poi and Dolly Lutchman while in the Library there was Christine Pantin who was assistant to the Librarian Bob Archibald.

One cannot forget the caliber of presenters that graced the screens in those good old days. People like Clyde Alleyne, Mervyn Telfer, Hazel Ward, Errol Chevalier, Melina Scott, Desmond Bourne, Peter Minshall and Jack Spector. In later years when the station was securely on its way, we saw many new faces like Bobby Thomas, Ann Wharwood, Freddie Wharwood, Ed Fung, Dale Kolasingh, Allyson Hennessy, Wilbert Holder, Don Proudfoot and others who contributed to the continuing success of Trinidad & Tobago Television.

As in any society, the medium of television is constantly praised and criticized. In Trinidad and Tobago where we are fortunate to have a population of different ethnic, social and religious backgrounds, the praise and criticism was fast and sometimes furious. But, I distinctly recall an in-house telephone survey that was conducted in 1980 and the results were astounding.

The majority of those surveyed all preferred the foreign programmes to those that were locally produced and the results were the same with the advertisers. This of course brings me to the line up of local and foreign programmes that were transmitted between 1962 and 1988, by far the best years in the programming history of TTT.

On the local scene, there was Scouting For Talent, Mastana Bahar, Indian Variety, Teen Dance Party, Teen Talent, Twelve And Under, Time To Talk, Mainly For Women, At Home, College Quiz, Know Your Country, It’s In The News, Better Village, Steelband Concert, Community Dateline, Play Of The Month and so many others, not forgetting TTT’s excellent coverage of Carnival and sporting events.

On the foreign scene one cannot forget programmes like The Roaring Twenties, Mc Hale’s Navy, Bilko, Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Days Of Our Lives, Maude, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Untouchables, Little House On The Prairie, Beverly Hillbillies, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Paper Chase, Taxi, Room 222, Knott’s Landing, Route 66 and many more that brought hours of good, clean family entertainment to the television screens. Those were definitely the good years, but change was soon to come and it happened when CBS, Rediffusion and the Thompson Group passed full control of the station to the Government of Trinidad & Tobago.

The downhill slide although fairly minimal at the time, began shortly after the Government took control and the autonomy once enjoyed by a staff of professionals soon became a thing of the past. The Newsroom was the first to feel the effects of the politicians, Government as well as Opposition. That effect was felt throughout the organization and lasted without change well into the 1980’s.

To this day, one very special event stands out as being the most touching moment of my career in television. It was Sunday, March 29th 1981, the day that Dr. Eric Williams died. I was at home that evening with my wife and two young daughters watching Solid Gold, a popular programme at the time when suddenly there was the noise of Motorcycles on the compound where I lived. Then, I heard someone calling out my name and when I eventually opened the door, there stood Mr Jim Rodriguez the then Commissioner of Police and Colonel Joseph Theodore of the Defence Force asking me to accompany them to President’s House.

Naturally, not knowing why and perhaps too worried to ask, I got dressed and went along, leaving a very worried family behind.

On arrival at President’s House, I was told about the Prime Minister’s death and then asked to go to Television House and make an announcement that President Ellis Clarke would be addressing the Nation at 8.00 a.m. the following morning. For security reasons, no mention was to be made in the announcement about the PM’s death, so before leaving for TTT,

I wrote a short script that was approved by the President. I remember telling Carl Narine, the Supervisor on duty that evening about the purpose of my visit without even a hint of the PM’s passing and after I was put on the air and the announcement recorded for further broadcasts before Sign Off, Carl in his normal quiet, smiling way looked me in the eye and said The PM dead nuh? He was not the only one to guess right, because the Switchboard was immediately flooded with calls asking the same question. The next morning, a more curious group had gathered outside of TTTThe President arrived at 7.50 a.m. and at 8.00 a.m. made the announcement of the PM’s passing and the appointment of Mr. George Chambers as the next in line designated to be appointed as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

Despite the fact that Dr. Williams was not a great supporter of the media, he always defended TTT from interference, especially from his Ministers and senior Government officials. But, following his death, the situation regarding political interference became even worse and continued to deteriorate, resulting in the eventual closure of the station after 42 years.Really a burning shame if ever there was one and for those of us who toiled at TTT in the early years and are still around, the pain will stay with us until we die. For the dearly departed, they most surely must have turned in their graves on January 14, 2005.