?David (Big Brother) Elcock was dubbed Dean of Broadcasters, several years ago, for his rich versatility and dominance of the early morning airwaves. Elcock, now in his mid-60s, has been domiciled in the US for the past 11 years. He returned home for a nostalgic get-together of employees of Radio 610, a popular frequency from the 1960s to the 1980s. He made time for an interview with the Sunday Guardian.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current quality of broadcasting in Trinidad and Tobago?
A: Generally, sub-standard! There are exceptions, but I shudder to really enumerate or call names. Obviously, I cannot monitor all stations, but from what I've heard, there is a lot of automation. I have heard there are many talk shows. I understand most morning shows are hosted by two personalities, sometimes more, with a lot of audience interaction. I am not sure how great a purpose they serve. I get the impression, as someone from the old school, that not enough emphasis is being placed on training, proper education, ability to speak fluently, to enunciate well, and to be mindful of what one says on the air. Those standards have dropped dramatically. There are many stations, but the majority–not all–need a lot of work in terms of professionalism and quality programming.
Is it that more hasn't meant better?
I would say so, Ken. In fact, I was in a discussion on that subject in a barber shop. I went to visit my old barber from 30 years, and there was speculation about how all the stations are faring. Many of them have very few commercials, and I am sure they have lots of bills to pay. There is so much similarity. More has not turned out to be better. I echo the sentiments of Ed Fung. It is surprising that so many are still on the air. If there were no dramatic changes in content and quality, lots of them would have to fold up.
How could standards be improved?
In several ways. Most importantly is the screening of your candidates for on-air work. I know there are several (training) schools. Edison Carr does an excellent job of training announcers. I think, at least, some CXC subjects are essential. English has got to be among them. They need to know what is going on around them, in social affairs. They need to be mindful. They should strive to be exemplars in terms of their speech.
Managers should make it a point to hire announcers who know the English language and who have a level of intelligence and eloquence,
One of the problems, Ken, is that some managers look for popular people, party DJs, to say nice things, and to make people feel good. But radio should be more than a feel-good medium. There needs to be more of the sense of responsibility and pride of the old days, with broadcasters like Ed Fung, Frank Hughes, Leo de Leon, Bobby Thomas, Trevor McDonald, Sam Ghany, Bob Gittens, Errol Chevalier, Clyde Allyene, Desmond Bourne, Carl Redhead and more.
These people were almost deities of broadcasting to young ones. They had our respect, and if they corrected us, we were happy that they took the time to show us the way. I don't know there are enough exemplars (today). Apparently, you are qualified as long as you have a bit of a personality, a voice and can string some sentences together with some coherence. To me, that is wrong. Management has got to be more assiduous in selecting on-air staff.
Is there a role for the Telecommunications Authority?
I have been absent for 11 years. I am a firm believer in having entities police themselves. You call them in and tell them we need better standards. There is no question that things are not as they should be. I could see them sitting with the heads of the 30-odd stations and discussing the dos and don'ts, rather than issuing a decree. They should reason together. There should be more planning and announcer training.
Discuss and come with some agreement. If after a year there is little or no change, then the authority can say if you guys can't police yourself, then we have to do it for you. I would dread the day that takes place. It would cause friction. But if action has to be taken, then so be it. I think it is late in the day, but T&T content, as far as workable, needs to have some kind of presence. If stations do their homework, they could interweave quality local acts into their programming.
What are your views on the current tensions between the media and the Prime Minister?
I was a trustee of MATT before I went away. I would not want MATT to agree to have local media overseen by any authority. That could be a can of worms. The media should be allowed to police themselves. The Prime Minister has a point that things could be improved, but imposing an authority would not be helpful.
What is your take on the general state of the nation and of governance?
My heart bleeds for the state of affairs of the country, in terms of crime and what seems to be serious corruption at certain levels. I have heard that some members of the protective service are allegedly involved in unsavoury acts. It really disturbs me. In the US, every president I have heard–Clinton, Bush and Obama–always said the first and most important responsibility of the president and government is the safety and security of the people. I wonder if this is the mindset of those in charge. One instance was the woman whose car was accosted, and she drove into a police station, thinking it was a safe haven, and was killed.
There are cases where people are shot in the head or chest and the gunman coolly walks away, because he knows no one would bear witness in the case. Lawlessness is rife. Those in authority are paying lip service. It is time to consider mandatory training centres, in various skills. Thousands of young people could be in a kind of boot camp, and training would be the order of the day. Also, a national sports foundation could be set up. We don't know how many outstanding sports people could emerge. At present, there is nowhere to train him or for him to release his talent. Set up these centres across the country. Let the country see there is a strategy and plan, and not just talk.
Are you confident that T&T can attain developed nation status by 2020?
Ken, I am the eternal optimist. I also feel when you have reached the lowest point, the only way out is up. But emphasis has to be taken away from the skyscrapers, the huge hotels, smelting plants and the industrial push that is the hallmark of those in power. They must be mixed with programmes that uplift people. I don't want 2020 to come and to see a vagrant overturning a bin downtown to look for food. Put people first. Without a shift of emphasis to include the population in a massive way, then 2020 would be only a dream.
Is there anything about the substance or style of President Barack Obama that our Prime Minister could emulate?
Yes, but the President of the US, and, before him, Clinton and Kennedy, had that elusive quality called charisma. Obama, of course, is an accomplished lawyer and a State senator in Chicago. Having been in Mr Obama's presence, I feel Mr Manning could take a leaf from his book. Mr Obama is still making his way. He has two wars to oversee; he has to push his health care programme, with enormous opposition from the conservatives, in addition to other challenges. He is obviously bent on making a difference as President of the United States.