Remembering PJ, ‘The Radio Driver’
By Terrence Mapurisana
When I first heard that the legendary radio DJ, Peter Johns, had passed on after coming across some WhatsApp messages awash with the alleged sad news on several groups, I tried to get the truth of the matter.
I got in touch with all my friends in the United Kingdom for verification. All I got was that the information was true, but no one was willing to confirm.
Former Radio 3 boss John Matinde had exchanged messages with Peter Johns on Sunday, April 26, the day before PJ’s death, and said he was trying to get hold of his son, Mark.
He wanted to get confirmation on the death message that had flooded social media platforms.
After reading several tweets, I later found out that indeed The Radio Driver had passed on.
I first knew PJ, as he was affectionately known on the then Radio 3, from listening to the radio in the late 1980s, as well as participating on a number of radio programmes that he hosted during my school days.
He was one of my favourites.
I equated him to John Matinde during those years. I loved his style of presentation, his seriousness behind the microphone, including the choice of music that he played on radio.
Artistes he played who came to mind include Phil Fearon and Galaxy, Kool and The Gang, Shalamar, Peace of Ebony, Ilanga, Billy Ocean and A Guy Called Gerald.
Remember the song “Voodoo Ray”?
I then had the opportunity to meet PJ live in the studio when we visited ZBC Pockets Hill as a school group.
Those that visited Pockets Hill studios while we were in school uniform included Enerst Mutemagawu (we later nicknamed him Peter Johns because from that day on he started imitating PJ), Leonardo Jangano, Ruth Mangoma and the late Forbes Sengu.
It was a marvel to watch Peter Johns behind the microphone in the Radio 3 studio with his many 12-inch record singles and cartridges that had jingles and commercials, as he played the latest songs from UK and the United States then.
He loved what he did behind the microphone.
Fast forwarding to the early 1990s when I applied for the Guest DJ slot on the then Radio 3 following an advert that was flighted on the station.
I was received by Peter Johns, Admire Taderera and Kudzi Marudza.
Apparently, PJ is the one who had worked on the jingle for the Guest DJ slot.
I was auditioned, and got a letter from the then station manager, Musi Khumalo, that I had made it.
All that remained was for me to go on air on the next Sunday afternoon. But before that I had to come in for sit-ins with Tonderai “Tony D” Ndoro, Kudzi “Mr Cool” Marudza and Innocent “For Love” Manase.
Then the following Sunday, I was thrown into the deep end. I remember PJ telling me that I shouldn’t panic, and all what I needed was to be calm.
For the whole period that I was on sit-ins, I never heard PJ speaking in Shona, and up to this day I don’t know whether the veteran DJ could speak Shona.
But what I knew was that when PJ played a Shona song he had no problem in the pronunciation, and that song would be a hit somehow.
He had the knack of playing a song and that song would be a hit.
However, a good friend of mine, Nicholas Kanenungo, said: “Peter was my brother (cousin). Amai vake (his mother) was Barbra Johns, nee Tutani. My mother is the last born in a family of six children, and Barbra was the fifth child.”
“The last time I saw Peter was in 2015 when his mother passed on. He was resting at his sister Eva Johns’ home in Braeside. Three operations had been done on him, and these had disturbed his health so much that he was in great pain, and I could see it in his eyes.
“What pains me most is the statement he said to me that day. Just after the burial of our mother at Warren Hills, he said to me, ‘My kid bro, I don’t think I will make it this time,’ and true to his word, he is gone.”
According to Nicholas, Peter Johns never spoke Shona, only his sister Eva did.
Peter Johns hosted a number of programmes on the then Radio 3 of the ZBC, which he left in the early 2000s.
He was now based in the UK where he was a club and radio DJ and a host for many functions.
The last time I spoke to him was when I asked him to do a jingle for my Classic 263 programmes, but unfortunately, I could tell that he was struggling with his voice. I never used the jingle.
When I heard that he was in hospital, I quickly looked for the Guest DJ jingle, and my first programme on radio from Classic 263 librarian Farai Kandishaya.
He gladly gave it to me. I also searched in my laptop, and found one of his radio programmes which I kept on playing as I drove to and from work. I guess I was inspired by the man.
Indeed, PJ’s health had failed him over the past few years. He died on Monday April 27 in the UK. His eldest son, Mark, said PJ was in a South London hospital after succumbing to three strokes and a heart attack.
He was first hospitalised in 2010 after suffering a mild cardiac arrest and was operated on.
Former Radio 3 DJ Joseph “Muzukuru” Hussein said Peter Johns was his childhood friend, colleague at Radio 3 and Zimbabwe’s finest DJ.
As we grew up, we loved his voice, his programmes, for he has more than 20 memorable years on radio and club, as well as deejaying on internet radio.
One programme that comes to mind is the Monday Mellow Madness soon after the Radio 3 Hitsville Top 10.
PJ started off as a club DJ in the 1980s at the age of 20.
He played at such nightclubs as Scamps, Archipelago, among others in and around Harare. He was a talented DJ who was so passionate about what he did.
He loved his music and he was professional too.
His first breakthrough with Radio 3 came when he was recruited by John “The Boss” Matinde.
He was offered a part-time slot every Sunday evening. He was up to date with the music scene, the world over, especially the UK and the US.
According to Fred Zindi, every week Peter Johns would receive at least 10 vinyl albums from either the US or from the UK through his contacts.
In an interview that was carried out by Chocolate Radio in UK, PJ talked about his experience as a radio and club DJ.
He revealed: “My passion for music, and interest in musicians and artistes found me collecting various genres of music and publications from overseas and locally from an early age.”
He said the CD/MP3 era was not yet born and vinyl ruled.
“Although carrying all those 12-inch and seven-inch records around was cumbersome, it was exciting waiting to hear the latest sounds when the stylus and vinyl met,” he said.
Peter Johns told listeners on Chocolate Radio that reel-to-reel recording and cassettes played a vital role in the early years, which was “a skilful and interesting technique which (he) will never forget.”
Those that also worked with him and shared the decks include Kudzi Marudza, Fungai “The Voice” Marange, Musi “Lady Boss” Khumalo, Innocent Manase, Tony D, Hilton Mambo, Admire Taderera, Busi Chindove, Alice Chavunduka, and Elvis “The Demon” Chimene, among a host of others.
PJ always remembered memories of Billy Bain, a close friend and mentor who took him around to watch him play at various functions and shows, and his deejaying debut came when Billy found himself double booked at a function.
Peter Johns once said: “In 1980, I was approached by a nightclub owner/DJ Tim Breen, and Zac Almedia; and was offered a session at his nightclub, Scamps. I played music from Mary-Jane Girls, The Whispers, Gap Band, Shalamar, D-Train, The Commodores, Earth Wind and Fire, Kool and the Gang, to name but a few.”
In 1981, he joined Radio 3, “which started with a 19-hour broadcast time, and eventually moved to become a 24-hour station. My first break into radio came when I was offered a part-time slot on a Sunday evening”, he said.
He was also popular with the British Top 40 that was aired on Radio 3, presenting the Coca-Cola on the Beat (Sounds on Saturday) with Patricia Mabviko and others.
He was, indeed, a shining star. Both on radio and television.
Former 3FM DJ Felix “The Happy Smiler” Nganjo, who is now based in UK, phoned me immediately after PJ’s death, and said when he started broadcasting on 3FM in 1990, Peter Johns and Admire Taderera welcomed him.
It’s incredibly difficult to think about PJ in the past tense.
He was a great radio talent, a skilled interviewer, who had the opportunity to interview international visiting artists, such as reggae superstars: Maxi Priest, Shabba Ranks, Jimmy Cliff and King Sounds. PJ was a true part of the Radio 3 spirit, and a wonderful man.
Peter Johns was an incredibly talented broadcaster, highly-respected colleague, and much-loved mentor to some of us.
He was a huge part of the ZBC Radio 3 family, and his passion for music always shone through in every programme he presented and produced.
At the time of his death, PJ was running a Facebook fan page under the name “This is What I call Old Skool” where listeners listened in to live Old Skool programmes and podcasts, view Old Skool videos, share music memories, chat and request tunes.
It had more than 6 000 members.
May his dear soul rest in peace! The Herald