Hopewell Chin’ono: Tribute to Zimbabwe radio legend Peter Johns
By Hopewell Chin’ono
Celebrated Zimbabwean radio disc jockey and announcer Peter Johns who died in a hospital in South London in England left a huge and unparalleled legacy of radio broadcasting that will live with the generation that had the privilege of being his listeners.
PJ the Radio Driver as he was known then was ahead of the curve locally and was one of the first radio disc jockeys to get international artists to do promotions for his radio shows.
Listening to his radio broadcasts was an exhilarating experience that I still can hear in my headspace to this day, “PJ the Radio Driver,” one of his jingles would say followed by an introduction to a song preceded with a jingle saying, “…live on CD.”
The Radio Driver’s passing has opened a very healthy debate about whether Radio 3 should have been left to continue with its 1980s and 1990s broadcasting format of airing predominantly foreign music.
The man who put an abrupt end to that broadcasting format was Professor Jonathan Moyo, when he became Zimbabwe’s Information Minister in 2000.
He introduced the 75 percent local content directive which required that Radio 3 broadcasts 75 percent locally produced music.
Change is never an easy thing to embrace especially if it throws you into unknown territories away from your comfort zone, but this is something that had to be done from a national broadcasting perspective.
The first question I want to answer for you is WHY was the Radio 3 project conceptualized, and by WHO, and did it serve its purpose, and was it time for it to be shelved when Prof Jonathan Moyo junked it.
I interviewed Zimbabwe’s first Information Minister Dr Nathan Shamuyarira on this issue, and he told me that what Prof Jonathan Moyo did was long overdue because the Radio 3 experiment had outlived its purpose.
Radio 3 had been set up by Dr Shamuyarira and his bureaucrats at the old Ministry of Information as a PROPAGANDA project, it was not accidental, Radio 3 was a political project conceptualized when Zimbabwe had just became independent in 1980.
The Radio 3 disc jockeys might not have known then, and perhaps now, that they were part of a political and propaganda communications project set up for a specific purpose by Robert Mugabe’s first government.
The Zimbabwean youths who fell in love with this project didn’t even know about the driving motive behind the setting up of their favourite radio station, one that was extremely popular, yet bereft of any developmental benefit to the local music industry.
Dr Shamuyarira told me that he set up Radio 3 as a political project that was meant to dissuade the Zimbabwean youths from listening to South African radio stations via the shortwave radio signal immediately after independence.
He said that South African radio stations were “pumping” apartheid propaganda laced with what he called “hippie” music.
He said that he had learnt the powerful effects of such foreign propaganda broadcasts from how ZANU’s Voice of Zimbabwe broadcasts from Maputo had influenced the youth in Rhodesia to join the liberation struggle.
He said that the Radio 3 project worked because Zimbabwe’s youths immediately disconnected from listening to South Africa’s radio stations and became more emotionally attached to black American music (Hip Hop) and Jamaican reggae music whose foundation was laid when Bob Marley performed at Zimbabwe’s first Independence celebrations at Rufaro stadium in 1980.
Dr Shamuyarira said that both music genres of hip-hop and reggae had a better black consciousness message in them than the music being broadcast on South African stations like Jacaranda Radio.
It was a necessary inconvenience that his new government could live with he added, bellowing that he would have preferred local music on that radio station, but that the circumstances of the time required that he abandoned his desires.
As a student of broadcasting myself, I would argue that what Prof Jonathan Moyo did made sense although it was driven by a different political motive, all policy is driven by political and economic considerations.
Prof Jonathan Moyo introduced the 75 percent local content requirement, suddenly Radio 3 had to play 75 percent local music as a matter of policy.
Many of Radio 3 listeners and disc jockeys were upset, all change has an effect of upsetting or making its subjects happier.
Why was this policy necessary at the time in 2000 or even today?
Broadcasting as a popular medium must be linked to the national economy, and not just be an accessory for entertainment with no benefit to the economy or related local industries.
It was ridiculous that Radio 3 programs like “Hit Pick” were based on phone call voting instead of record sells as is the standard norm world over.
It is because the Radio 3 format was not linked to the national economy, and its music was not even available in the country.
Radio 3 listeners had no access to the music, and could only record it using tape recorders, which in itself was a violation of copyright law.
Prof Moyo’s 75 percent local content intervention made sure that royalties were now paid to local artists as opposed to foreign artists, a bill that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was struggling to foot due to foreign currency issues, and deliberate theft of the royalty payments by the ZBC and Ministry of Information bosses.
The 75 percent local content directive helped develop the youthful genres of Urban Grooves and Zimdancehall, and it was very strategic in terms of music industry development.
It produced today’s music stars like Winky D, they suddenly found their music being played on more radio rotations than before on radio 3.
Prof Moyo changed the name of the Station to Power FM, I would imagine to break with the legacy of Radio 3.
Power FM became a broadcasting platform for local youth talent and music, and without it perhaps Urban Grooves and Zimdancehall would not have gotten far at all.
I would also argue that the move met international best practices, because radio is supposed to support the local music and arts industries, Radio 3 didn’t do any of that, it was a foreign music radio station.
So dismantling Radio 3 was a very progressive decision in terms of developing the local music industry for the youth who were not interested in the local traditional genres of Sungura and Chimurenga.
We all know that Dr Shamuyarira initially disliked Prof Jonathan Moyo, but he said to me that dismantling Radio 3 is a legacy that no progressive communications scholars could argue with, a very profound statement coming from the man who midwifed Radio 3.
Had youthful music groups such Illanga had existed during Prof Jonathan Moyo’s reign at the Information Ministry, they would have gotten more airtime.
It was ridiculous that Bhundu Boys was more popular with foreign youths in Britain listening to John Peel’s show on the BBC, than Zimbabwean youths listening to Radio 3.
This in no way takes away anything from the Radio 3 legends that include the recently departed Peter Johns.
They were products of their time and circumstances, and they will always live in the memories of the millions of listeners that they entertained not only on radio, but in night clubs too.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning broadcast journalist and CNN journalist of the year.