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Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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‘Storming’ Tom Blindness couldn’t stop his radio dream
“I was not a tragedy nor a burden and I never thought for one minute that I could not be all I wanted to be.” Fifty-year-old Anthony “Storming” Tom said these words with conviction, as he sat in studio at i95.5FM to share with the T&T Guardian his success story of becoming a celebrated and respected broadcaster, despite having been born legally blind. “I always loved music and I had a natural talent for deejaying,” he said. He recalls that talent being nurtured and developed at the Santa Cruz School for the Blind which he attended from the age of four until he was 17, and also supported by his parents who now live in Boston. “Those 13 years at Santa Cruz were the best years of my life,” he said. In that time, Tom would make his name hosting events put on by the school’s literary clubs. “They would always choose me to emcee for events because the teachers said I had a nice voice,” he remembers.
These opportunities would get Tom his first encounter with radio which he described as a significant introduction to his dream. Chosen to promote a big event his school was having, he was interviewed at Radio Trinidad by veteran announcer Barbara Assoon and on the now defunct NBS 610 Radio with presenter Phil Simmons. “The same day I did the interview with Phil, I also had a television interview with the late Allyson Hennessy. Boy that interview got me in some trouble because I was a bit outspoken,” he said with a chuckle. Tom explained there were some things going on at the school at the time that made him quite upset. “The infrastructure of the school was long overdue for fixtures and I felt the principal was dragging his foot on it.” Though the principal wasn’t pleased, he did not punish Tom. Instead, the irate student got a bit of diplomacy training on addressing contentious issues during an interview. After completing school, Tom began to work at the Institute for the Blind (now called the Blind Welfare Association of T&T), as a handicraft worker. Although weaving baskets was not quite his thing, Tom did leave his mark there as well, being instrumental in the formation of Voice of the Blind—a movement started by him and current executive officer Kenneth Suratt—to protect the rights of visually-impaired workers, who at the time had no union representation. The association is now represented by All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers’ Union.
A dream begins to take flight
Those radio interviews Tom had done earlier, only strengthened his dream of becoming a deejay and radio announcer. In 1988, he entered his first public DJ challenge hosted by Sky Promotions and sponsored by Carib. Although the competition came to an abrupt and premature end, Tom was not shy to boast that he was unbeaten in the preliminaries. “If they had only gone all way with this competition I would have won...there was no doubt I would have won,” he bragged. After the competition, Tom continued to knock on the doors of radio stations sending in demo after demo but was often turned down. “I suspected I was turned down many times because I was blind. I mean no one ever really told me no, but they never really told me yes either.”
Finally in 1993, a phone call from Prime 106FM meant his dream of being on radio would be finally fulfilled. He was asked by the station to co-host a special programme with David La Chaille, called the Disabled and You. Tom’s voice was also used to create station IDs for the programme.
The programme opened a huge door for Tom, under the watchful eyes of former general manager of Prime 106FM, Julian Rogers; chief operator Huw Phillips; radio librarian Michael London; and CEO Ken Gordon, Tom was offered a full broadcasting course at the company’s expense. “At the time, Ken was in the process of retraining staff and when he heard my voice, he offered the course to me for free. I always say to people who are paying a lot for these same courses nowadays, I got them for free thanks to Ken Gordon.” After the course, Tom began working in the station’s production department, but Rogers and Gordon wanted the South native on air. “Gordon always used to say my voice should not go to waste,” Tom recalled.
Ready or not, Tom went on air with an operator, the late Gerard Thomas, as part of what is known in radio as a live assist. In those days most radio stations were automated. Tom would often ask Thomas questions about the console and how to operate it. “One day Gerard got summoned to production to handle a major production task and we had a live insert coming up and I found he was taking too long to return so I went to the board. I put the computer on live, did the live insert which was an ad lib and then I placed it back on automation,” explained Tom. He said within seconds Rogers was in the studio, because he knew he had Thomas in production and that Tom was alone on air. “That was it for me, I started to swim alone from then until now,” said Tom.
After the closure of Prime in the mid-90s, Tom moved within the group to TV6 doing voiceovers for about 18 months. By 1997, he moved over to Radio Superior—known today as Boom Champions 94.1FM. Radio Superior was experiencing some financial woes and Louis Lee Sing who had just started Power 102FM was given the contract to manage the 94.1 frequency.
Under his management, it became part of the Radio Vision Group and was transformed into Love 94FM, T&T’s first gospel radio station. Tom was given the prime shift of afternoon drive time from 2–6 pm. He then became an announcer with Power102FM on a nightly adult programme called Sexplosion, with co-announcer Roger Lee. Today, Tom is on i95.5FM where he hosts Tom’s Diner, a programme on Monday to Wednesday nights from 7-9 pm where he plays what he calls “grown folks’ music.”
As a motivational speaker, Tom is an inspiration to those in the visually impaired community. He has spoken at various schools across the country, where his constant message to young people is to never to give up in the face of adversity or trials. Asked what advice he would give today, the father of one said: “I do everything with an attitude that says I can make it. So I say to those who might believe that their facing hurdles that seem insurmountable—don’t get discouraged. You have it in you to make it.”