woensdag 29 mei 2019

Meeting Pete Myers

Pete Myers - without his trademark sunglasses
(Photo: Radio Netherlands)
Radio personality Pete Myers passed away on 15 December 1998. 
I briefly worked with him. Here are a few of my reminiscences.

Signing on

When Radio Netherlands hired me as a news and continuity presenter in 1996, I was shown around the building by Jonathan Groubert. Between his duties as a programme host he had apparently been assigned the task of welcoming new recruits - or maybe he just happened to be around after my confirmatory second interview with Personnel.

Jonathan walked me through the long corridors of the 1960s concrete office building, nipping into a little cubicle here and there, and showing me who lived there. "This is a place that you will come back to again and again: the secretary's office. This is Iris." The secretary looked up from her PC monitor, smiled and said, "So, you made it? Congratulations!" She had shown me in on my first interview, so we had already had some sort of introduction.

"Oh, and have you had your goodie bag yet? Every new staff member gets one," Iris said. Jonathan fished a white linen bag with the station logo out of a cupboard and peered into it. "Here you are, but there's something missing." He rummaged around in the same cupboard and came up with a little brown card box, lifting out what was inside and handing it to me. "This is the Radio Netherlands mug. Your voice will sound different when you drink from it!" I half believed him. Briefly.

The text on the shiny grey stoneware mug read "Radio Netherlands, all shades of opinion". I still have the mug, unchipped to this day, although the text has worn away completely. I drink from it regularly.

Pete's office

Next stop down the corridor was another long narrow cubicle, the door wide open. "Do go in," Jonathan said, following me.

At a desk by the open window, his back turned to us, a tall man sat hunched over a typewriter. "Pete, can I disturb you for a moment?"
"Sure Jonathan, anytime," Pete replied, turning towards us and straightening his back. Slightly balding, his hair still dark, Myers' handsome face examined me.
"Pete, this is Rob Kievit, our new continuity man and newsreader. Rob, this is Pete Myers."
Pete grabbed my hand and effusively said, "Very pleased to meet you, Rob, and welcome to this wonderful department. I'm so glad you're here - you must be the person who is finally going to relieve me of those dreadful night shifts," he said in that warm silver voice of his that I had only heard on short wave up to now.

"What," Jonathan said, "you, the Grand Old Man of Radio Netherlands, have been doing night shifts?" It turned out that there had been a gap in the roster - the only thing that could keep Iris awake at night. Pete happened to pass by the secretary's office and valiantly offered to fill in for a couple of weeks, "so you will finally get some sleep, dearest Iris".
Which is how Radio Netherlands' star presenter was suddenly scheduled for the least popular job on the roster: playing taped shows throughout the night, making brief announcements in between, and reading the news bulletins on the half hour. The graveyard shift. 

"So, my friend, the powers that be found you suitable for the job? I have no doubt that you are. Do you have any qualities that might hinder you?"
"Well, I might be a bit too modest," I ventured, impressed by Pete's effervescent style.
"Nonsense my dear chap, modesty goes out the window here. We're all consummate professionals, and you will be one too. Whatever you do, preparation is everything. Look at me: after all those years, I'm still typing out every word I'm going to say on air. A man of habit. As you can see, I'm still using one of those contraptions" - pointing to the IBM golfball typewriter humming on his desk. "If you'll excuse me now, I've still got some work to do for the daytime job. I'll see you after my last night shift next week." With that he turned back to his typewriter.

Pete's past

It was only later that I learnt about Pete's long history in radioland - and elsewhere.

What I remember being told is that Pete Myers was among the first deejay crew that tried in the late 1960s to turn BBC's new pop station Radio One into a success. He had earlier brought enormous popularity to the African programme of the World Service. Pete, however, refused to become a standard diskjockey, all jokes and shouts, and soon decided he did not fit in with the station.

After leaving Radio One, Pete was not involved with broadcasting for a while and managed a nightclub in Beirut, Lebanon, then often described as the Paris of the Middle East.

He joined Radio Netherlands' English service and enthusiastically restyled their broadcasts to the African continent. Pete developed the hugely successful Afroscene show. When I began at RN, he was the host of the weekly listeners' letters show, Sincerely Yours. At one point Pete had trouble walking, and could not get to the studio. But rather than telephoning somebody to stand in for him, he organized an engineer and an editor to drive over to his home with some equipment and record the show right there in his bedroom.

But I did not know any of that history back in 1996. At the time I merely got to know Pete Myers as a courteous and professional colleague.

Morning shift

After a week of shadowing experienced announcers, learning the ins and outs of live continuity presentation from Dave Durham and Carol Vandenring, and receiving a thorough voice training from Robert Green, I was finally ready for the first morning shift on my own.

I arrived that Monday morning at a quarter to six, still sleepy-eyed but well in time for launching the 6:30 broadcast. Greeting the overnight engineer in passing, I entered the little studio, Cell 4, from where all the station's shows were broadcast. My predecessor on the roster, Pete Myers on his last night shift, had already gone home.

Pulling up the wheeled office chair - the hotseat - and pulling the microphone a little bit closer, I prepared for the show, cueing up the first two tapes I had to play. Then I nipped over to the newsroom, still empty at this early hour, but for a couple of nighttime editors dotted widely apart in the cavernous space. The English translator, who was nodding off at his desk, awoke with a shudder and handed me the nine A4 sheets which constituted the news bulletin.

Back in the studio, I sat down, put on my headphones and got ready for a pre-broadcast run-through of the bulletin, as I had been taught. My eye fell on a crumpled ball of paper, carelessly tossed away into a corner of the wide presenter desk with the mixing console. I smoothed out the A4-sized page. Somebody had written across the spreadsheet printout: "Done!"

The top line read: Roster; night shifts: Pete Myers.

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