I have to smile when I hear people say that one should not live in the past…after all that’s where I spend most of my day and I love it!!! It often causes mild alarm to appear on the faces of those who find history boring or irrelevant but, what the heck, I get my revenge by thinking: “Everything you do Buddy, is anchored firmly in the past. You can’t get away from it. You can’t even ignore it because it is the one tangible dimension of time which pervades every inch of ground you walk on, every building you see and every person you meet.” *laughs maniacally*
Seriously though, there are certain ‘places’ in the past that I love to visit over and over again. Too many to mention here but I am going to mention one in particular because this is a part of South African history that has touched many of us personally. I am talking about Springbok Radio…The Station for Brighter Broadcasting!
When I was growing up, Springbok Radio was a fundamental part of our household. It was there when my Mom made supper, it was at the dinner table when we listened to the “The World at 7pm” (mostly with Dennis Smith, Neville Dawson or Victor Mackison reporting) and afterwards it would keep us around the table over a cup of coffee, riveted to another episode of No Place to Hide with Mark Saxon and Sergei (do you remember Sergei’s faithful pistol called Petruschka?) .
What wonderful days they were. There was no television service in South Africa until 1976 and before that radio was King. Programmes such as Inspector Carr Investigates, Call Back The Past with Percy Sieff, The Creaking Door, The Top Twenty hosted by Gruesome Gresham (David Gresham) which my brother and I used to listen to clandestinely on a Saturday night when we were supposed to be asleep…and what about the Chappie Chipmunk Club, Brian O’Shaughnessy as Jet Jungle, Test the Team with Dewar McCormack as quizmaster and Venture with Kim Shippey?
The live studio shows were always popular too – The Surf Show Pick-A-Box with Bob Courtney, the Caltex Show with Peter Merrill, Check Your Mate with Percy Sieff and Judy Henderson and Fun With The Forces also with Percy Sieff. The Super Dooper Shopper Show recorded live in shopping centres around the country became quite the thing where people could win expensive appliances and shopping vouchers.
Of course no one could forget Friday nights when you heard the words “They prowl the empty streets at night…waiting… in fast cars and on foot…living with crime and violence….” Squad Cars! Ja… those were the days! Loads and loads of other programmes spring to mind but I better leave it at that or we’ll be here all day (well…er…I don’t mind if you don’t mind.)
As fate would have it, after I left school, I landed a job in the SABC’s operations or technical department in Cape Town and had the privilege of working with many of the personalities who had ‘joined’ us in our home via the radio when I was younger : Bill Prince, Dewar McCormack, Peter Merrill, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Judy Henderson, Percy Sieff, Pip Freedman, Leslie McKenzie, Andre Botma, (drama producer of the Destined Hour and Lux Radio Theatre), Andre Brink, Driaan Engelbrecht (Afrikaans drama producer) to name but a few. In the first few weeks in my new job it was quite amazing to meet the faces belonging to the voices I knew so well over the air. Later I was to work with Colin Fluxman, Martin Bailie the little Irish Devil and Oom Dana Niehaus. I also had the privilege of working one weekend with Tannie Esmé Euverard. She was just as kind in real life as she sounded on the air.
Springbok Radio fell silent on New Year’s Eve 1985. Since its first broadcast on the 1st May 1950 it had been a presence in every South African home. It was vibrant and had huge variety in its programming format not to mention the personalities. Some of them were celebrities like modern day film stars and would be mobbed at outside broadcasts. But for all that, the Powers That Be at the SABC in Johannesburg decided that, with the advent of television, Springbok Radio was no longer commercially viable and that was that. I still cannot believe that skillful repositioning of the station would not have worked; after all it has been done with other stations within the mighty SABC.
I was in the Cape Town studios on that last day. I had recorded and done live programmes for the station for almost 8 years so it was a sad occasion for me, as it probably also was for many of my colleagues. Some of the personalities were absorbed into other areas of the industry – some went to other radio stations like Percy Sieff who hosted his Zoom with Oom show on Radio Good Hope on Wednesday nights. Brian O’Shaughnessy jumped the great divide into television becoming famous as Buller Wilmot in the TV series The Villagers and ended up producing radio drama in Cape Town for the SABC’s English Service. Martin Bailie also successfully made the switch to television. Many did ‘voice over” work recording radio commercials and some went into theatre. But whichever way you look at it something died the day Springbok closed down. It felt like an entire era had come to an end as indeed it had and whilst I continued to work for radio for the next 10 years it just did not feel the same. Brings to mind the song by The Buggles – Video killed the Radio Star.
One of the best sites for information and sound clips on Springbok Radio is that of the Pumamouse - Enjoy!!!
Another very good website is the Springbok Radio Preservation Society
Friday, January 19, 2007