“DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH GUYANA RADIO” – By Bernard Heydorn

“DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH GUYANA RADIO” – By Bernard Heydorn

Broadcasting House, Georgetown, British Guiana 1964

Caribbean radio has a long, illustrious history. In the days before television, videos and the like, radio was the people’s main source of news and entertainment. Guyana had its first radio station, ZFY on the air as early as 1935, even before the CBC in Canada in 1936, and not long after the BBC in England, 1922.

ZFY was accompanied by stations VB3BG and VP3MR, followed by Radio Demerara in the 1940s and BGBS in the 1950s. Incidentally, ZFY, which was located by the Main Post Office in Georgetown, burned to the ground in the great fire of February 1945, the week when I was born. 

Guyana was ahead of sister stations in the Caribbean, Radio Trinidad having started during World War II, Radio Jamaica in 1950, Windward Islands, 1955, and the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (Barbados) in 1963. Previously, Barbados had, and I still believe, still has a Rediffusion service. All these stations played a significant part in the lives of the populace.

For example, in Trinidad, Auntie Kay’s Children Programme on Radio Trinidad ran for almost 40 years. Comedian John Agitation and a number of East Indian Programs were also very popular there. In Jamaica, Radio Jamaica broke new ground by putting creole programs on the air. In Barbados, Rediffusion and Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation showcased the broadcaster and comedian, Alfred Pragnell. The Windward Islands on the 90 metre band, and their popular request program in the evenings, was one of my favourites.

But my best memories of radio are those of Guyana radio, when I was growing up. Who can forget Olga Lopes-Seales and the popular birthday request program on Radio Demerara, daily, at 4.30 p.m.? Or Olga and the A. Wander-sponsored Ovaltine Kiddies Talent program, with their theme song, “We are the Ovalteenies, Happy girls and boys” on Saturdays. Budding stars such as Guyana’s answer to Elvis Presley, Andy Nicholls, singing Parting is Hard, found a spot on the Radio Demerara also featured a number of other talented broadcasters, household names, such as Ulric Gouveia, Rafiq Khan, B.L. Crombie, Lilian Fraser, Pat Cameron, Gerard De Freitas, Eleanor D’Aguiar, and Sarah Lou Carter, Merle Ibbott, to name a few. Olga Lopes-Seales went on to work at Rediffusion in Barbados and gave sterling service there until her retirement in the 1980s.

Popular radio programs in Guyana included the soap opera, Portia Faces Life, at 10 a.m. on weekdays, and Music from Mackenzie at midday. The melodic piano playing of Randolf Profitt on Friday nights, and Harry Mayers Militia Band on Monday nights, sponsored by Bookers Crown Rum. These were a treat.

Bill Rogers (Augustus Hinds), singing his shanto-like calypsos, took pot-shots on anybody on any night, while Guyanese comedians such as Sam Chase, Jack Melo and Zeda Martindale held court on radio and stage. One of my favourite programs was Indian Song Time, heard in the evenings, with the signature tune, the hauntingly beautiful Sahani Raat, sung by Mohammed Raffi from the movie Dulcari.

At 5.45 p.m. daily, with the shadows of evening drawing close, we hung out by the radio to hear from Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys, Hank Snow and the Rainbow Ranch Boys, and Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, riding the range for 15 minutes, while we young cowpokes listened, all ears, strumming along on our rubber band, shoe-box guitars.

For the adults, night would not be complete without tuning in to the romantic radio drama Second Spring, with its signature tune Beautiful Dreamer at 6.45 p.m., followed by the long living Aunt Mary, a good neighbour, at 7 p.m., and climaxed by the BBC news from England at 7.15 p.m.

Incidentally, the BBC news was also heard daily at 7.15 a.m., 12.15 p.m., and 4.15 p.m. At such times, my father made sure that the house was deadly quiet, pressing his ear to the radio, for he seemed to get his daily instructions from the BBC!

After the 7.15 p.m. news, it was house lock up and bedtime. For the kids who wanted to stay up late and be scared, there was the radio drama, The W-e-e-e-e-i-r-d Circle.

Religious programming from all denominations filled the airwaves on Sunday, from morning till night, so that no one could forget that it was Sunday. Compare that to today when people don’t care if Good Friday falls on a Sunday, as long as a buck can be made. When cricket was in season, all programming broke down to make way for the game. The radio was also used for Radio Broadcasts to Schools, which among other things, introduced government propaganda to the classroom.

I could not conclude this piece without mentioning the makes of some of the old radios and radiograms — names such as Grundig, Mullard, Pye, Phillips, Normandie, GEC, Telefunken, and Blaupunkt. The radios also amplified pick-up gramophones for regular brams, house, and birthday parties.

Incidentally, Guyana radio can now be picked up in Toronto with a weak signal, during the night, on the 3290 metre band shortwave, playing some hot calypso followed by the death announcements! I sometimes get up in the middle of the night to listen to Guyana radio, until my wife chases me to bed, complaining that the static and noisy reception disturbs the household and neighbourhood!

I am so enthralled by old time radios and records, I have started collecting them, so if you have any to throw out, throw them my way. Finally, we should never forget that for many around the world, democratic radio is the voice of the people, then, now, and in the foreseeable.

ALSO VIEW:

History of Radio in British Guiana | Guyanese Online

https://guyaneseonline.net/2010/03/29/history-of-radio-in-british-guiana/

Mar 29, 2010 – Radio broadcasts were started in Guyana (then British Guiana) in the … Station ZFY operated from the main post office in Georgetown until the …

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Establishing Radio in Guyana – Guyana Times International

https://www.guyanatimesinternational.com/?p=20901

Nov 2, 2012 – 1951 ZFY Radio Demerara – Georgetown, British Guiana QSL card. A QSL card is a confirmation card to the sender (posted by mail, especially …   [PDF]

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Comments

  • michael hawkins  On February 25, 2019 at 5:22 am

    Yes as a boy I well remember ZFY and some of the programs on it. Mostly the Country and wester one. Good old days so simple but safe

  • Regina Rose  On February 25, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for reminding me of the Guyana I knew**the two Guyana Radio stations stations I grew up listening to**I remember an announcer by the name of Hugh Cholmondeley**and programs like Teenage Platter (I think that was the name) oh the memories of a different Guyana that I am afraid to visit now**how sad that I feel so safe in my adopted Country and not the Land of my birth**maybe things will change one day.

  • dhanpaul narine  On February 26, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Nice piece Bernard. There were Sonny Mohamed on GBS and Ayube Hamid on Radio Demerara that had us listening to Indian music ‘Indian Memory Album.’ It was amazing how B. L. Crombie was able to fit in all that sporting information in 10 mins. By the time he was finished Ma was about to complete checking seven precious children with her bottle lamp to make sure that they washed their hand and foot. As usual, I was fast asleep by the time she got to me.

  • Joan Seymour  On March 1, 2019 at 1:45 am

    What about the early morning programmes with Christian hymns and Indian songs. Then I remember the Sunday evangelical programmes from the southern US with the preachers saying put your hand on the radio and you will be saved . And of course the music played before the death announcements: ” calling so and so, in the Rupinuni, mother died, funeral to be held on…. This will be the only intimation” .

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