Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Perspective | The marvel that is the BBC

Every month has its own unique memories and December, for me, is no exception.

This December marks twenty years since I rescued my old man's transistor radio from its misery because we (the radio and I) were kinda idle at the time and could certainly do with each other's company.

It was in the same month that I discovered, and fell in love with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio. BBC became my principal source of my information because 1) I neither had access to nor knew how to use the internet and 2) I still required a visa to sneak out and watch the English Premier League.

Allan Green, Jonathan Overend, Alex Capstick, Tim Vickery, Nishat Adat, Julian Marshall and Russell Fuller became personal favorites.

I barely went a week without listening to one of Network Africa, Focus on Africa, Sports World, News Hour, From Our Own Correspondent, or Letter from America among a multitude of others the station had to offer.

It was partly because of my then infatuation with BBC that mzee tasked me with giving him highlights of the day's news. In 2004, there was a coup in Haiti that had then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide ousted by rebels under the command of a certain Guy Phillipe.

On the evening the news came through, I had wandered to Tanzania-based Radio Free Africa via Medium Wave transmission and gotten hooked because RFA played awesome Rumba in the evenings. I was still anganzi when mzee asked me about the coup.

You should have seen me sweating.

My explanation of the ousted president having a complicated name fell on deaf ears because I had done French in O-Level and therefore there was no way I could fail to grasp what should have been a simple name.

Rating BBC's programming as decent would be an understatement. They are excellent. The catalogue, the layout, the presentation and everything else in between is simply top-drawer.

But if there's one thing that has fascinated me most about BBC, it's the length of service for the average employee. Whereas some had their careers cut short by the cruel hand of death (Rest in peace, Raphael Tenthani, Komla Dumor) a good chunk of the presenters I first heard in 1997 are still active.

Julian Marshall (any relation to the long-serving staffer – Marion Marshall, anyone?) has done his thing for a whopping forty years, yet he still sounds as fresh as when I first heard his voice in 1997.

James Alexander Gordon did the Sports Report classified results in his trademark baritone for a cool 41 years before succumbing to cancer at 78, while Alistair Cooke did "Letter from America" (among others) until his very last breath, literally, before succumbing to lung cancer at 95 – a career spanning 58 years.

Twenty years since I first knew BBC, I have finished school, got employed, changed jobs no less than five different times and Paul Bakibinga's voice is still on radio.

What could be the magic behind this staff longevity at BBC?

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