Saturday, April 20, 2024

THE HOYOS FILE: Fernandes – a modern Barbados media pioneer

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One of the pioneers of the modern media industry in Barbados has just officially retired.
Usually when we write appreciations of people’s careers, they are part of a eulogy, but I am most grateful that that is not the case here. The downside of this, of course, is that the person can call you up and object to something you wrote, which is not usually the case in the other scenario.
Also, this is a very subjective review, I readily admit. You see, I believe that Vic Fernandes’ career ensures his place among the stalwarts who, by virtue of their powerful personalities and virtuoso talents, created the professional media industry on which we have come to depend, and perhaps take a little too much for granted, here in Barbados.
The only other living person who comes readily to mind in the league occupied by Vic Fernandes is Harold Hoyte. They join Valence Gale and Charles Chenery of The Advocate, and Clennell Wickham of The Herald. And the granddaddy of them all would be Samuel Jackman Prescod of The Liberal.
This is not to say others may not have been as talented in the fields these people contributed to during their careers, but the theme here is the combination of talent for both their craft and for management, and for the ability to lead successful organisations which carried the torch of public affairs during their tenure, and set standards which remained benchmarks after their departure.
My friends, that is a tightrope few can walk for long periods.
Vic once told me that he had originally got into broadcasting because there was a girl he really liked who had moved to St Lucia, so he thought that by getting on the air she would still be able to hear him.
I couldn’t tell you how that worked out, as I was never told (shock), but I am sure that most people who also heard Vic on air would agree that he revolutionised the deejay chair in Barbados.
He was so fast, sharing facts about upcoming songs and their performers timed to perfection, so that the singing started a split second after he finished the intro. His taste was eclectic, and he was as fully versed in the exciting pop world of the Sixties and Seventies as he was with the local and regional calypso, reggae and spouge music scene.
In those days everyone listened to afternoon “drive time” radio to hear the latest hits, and Vic was King of Afternoon Drive Time. His influence on a whole generation of Bajan music fans cannot be overstated.
While still working primarily as on-air “talent”, Vic showed his growing management ability by becoming a successful promoter of bands like the Tradewinds and other major acts. His shows were always reasonably priced and a good time was had by all.
This includes his foray into beauty pageants, which also set new standards for local entertainment productions, moreso when we realise many were staged in such “minimalist” production environments as the Globe Cinema.
Who can forget Vic in a tuxedo welcoming patrons of his Miss Barbados show outside the Globe?
On the street.
As Vic developed his talents he moved over to media management, where his creative ideas became radio stations designed primarily by him which are still leaders in their niches today – Liberty, Love, Hott, for example.
All the while he kept his voice before the mike, if in smaller and more selected doses as time went on. I understand he also developed a particular on-air affinity for fruits and vegetables.
Which reminds me of the unkind joke about the late Margaret Thatcher, who was known to dominate her Cabinet.
Having dinner with her ministers one evening the Iron Lady was asked by the waiter: “What are you having for dinner, ma’am?”
“Raw meat,” she replied.
“And the vegetables?” asked the waiter.
“They’ll have the same,” she said.
A good (and often ribald) sense of humour, a ready wit, and a genuine love for – and encyclopedic knowledge of – contemporary music characterised Vic Fernandes as a radio personality, but we also remember that him as the CBC-TV Evening News anchor for many years, setting standards for diction and clarity, not to mention seriousness. Vic was a very serious news reader.
When he took over as CEO of what was then Barbados Rediffusion Services, which later became, of course, Starcom Network, Vic had to deal with his share of tough management issues, but these did not stop him from leading the repositioning of Starcom as a multi-station company, winning in most if not all of its targeted audience sectors regularly over the years.
In the final years of his official career, Vic became president of the growing radio division of One Caribbean Media (OCM).
He was the point man for coordinating the thrust of OCM in acquiring many stations in the Eastern Caribbean and linking some of them into the Caribbean SuperStation network, a first for the region.
Now, you might think all this would be enough to keep a fellow busy, but Vic also served the Caribbean Broadcasting Union with distinction for many years, including being its president.
There was a time in Barbados – mainly the Seventies and Eighties, I suppose – when a modern country had to be created. We had received our Independence, but it soon became apparent that the collection of villages which comprised our nation – as Errol Barrow put it so succinctly – really needed a whole new set of institutions to allow them to fuse into true nationhood.
These were built in many cases by people who became stalwarts in their chosen sectors because of their larger-than-life personalities and ‘all-rounder’ talents, to use a cricketing term.
To carry that metaphor a little further, you could say Vic Fernandes was a “Garry Sobers” of Barbados and regional media. Others might call him a “gorilliphant”.
He is one of a handful of talented people who crossed over into management and helped place their chosen field, in his case broadcasting, on a firm foundation for the generations to follow.
I am proud that he has always been, from time immemorial, and remains, my friend.

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