OBITUARY: Icon of Malaysian English radio


Friends and colleagues knew Alan Zechariah as a jolly and hearty broadcaster who was true to his craft, writes Dennis Chua

BROADCASTER Alan Zechariah, who died of a heart attack last Tuesday, will always be remembered by friends and fans as an icon of Malaysian English radio.

Before the advent of private radio and television stations in the 1980s, his was one of the foremost voices of English broadcasting, and remained so until his retirement.

The last meeting with Zechariah took place in October last year at Holiday Villa, Subang Jaya. He was among 40 veteran broadcasters of Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) at an informal reunion lunch.

Zechariah, who kept in touch with most of his colleagues, had vowed to meet up with them annually, and preferably at the same venue.

He and fellow broadcasters Constance Haslam-Behr, Ronnie Atkinson, Datin Marina Samad, Datuk Faridah Merican, Fauziah Nawi, Razally Hussein, Amelia Teh, Mustapha Sheriff and Emile Moissinac called themselves The Voices, and aptly so, as they were the pioneers of English radio.

In the reunion, Zechariah, who joined RTM in 1966 and retired in 2000 said he was thrown into the deep end, and learnt fast.

“Team work is very important and you must always remember that your superior is behind you,” he said.

Besides deejaying, Zechariah was a popular television emcee and announcer.

He recalled fondly his experience emceeing the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Conference 1989.

He said: “I was tasked with announcing the VIPs’ names and had to rehearse for their arrival with the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.”

Zechariah and Dr Mahathir had to stay behind a marked line for the camera crew to record the live telecast.

He apologised to Dr Mahathir for being the only broadcaster to tell his leader to “toe the line”.

“I tried as hard as possible to plan my programmes to be acceptable to listeners. Deejays should be hands-on,” he said of his principles of broadcasting.

Razally, who with Zechariah suggested that The Voices meet up on the last Sunday of every October, said they first met in 1968 in RTM Johor Baru.

“We did the Regional Broadcast from 10.30pm to midnight, and he gave me a test,” Razally said.

“Alan went out for a short while at 10.30pm, leaving me to manage announcements on the radio,” he said. “Little did I know that he was supervising me from outside and gave me the thumbs-up.

“He was a great teacher and friend, and I’ll miss him dearly,” Razally added.

Haslam-Behr, who has lived in France for a decade, described Zechariah as a passionate broadcaster.

She said Zechariah was a peer who always believed that aspiring broadcasters must have good rapport with listeners and remember that “the audience always come first”.

Atkinson described Zechariah as a hale and hearty friend with a superb command of English.

“He was a great guitarist and a fan of sports cars,” reminisced Atkinson, adding: “Alan and I shared a belief that broadcasting is hard work but great fun.”

Atkinson’s son Darren, also a radio presenter, said Zechariah was a dear friend of the family and they shared a love for blues music.

He gave Darren a B.B. King blues guitar book, which he signed “Welcome to the blues” in 1987.

“Alan heard through my father about my love for blues and gave me this book,” said Darren.

Fauziah credits Zechariah, besides Atkinson, Teh and Haslam-Behr as her teachers in broadcasting.

“Alan, among others, taught me that we must work as a team and there should be no diva-like attitudes.”

Teh said Zechariah was a gem amongst broadcasters, who loved his work and respected his fans.

Moissinac said he and Zechariah became close friends because of their passion for music, and broadcasting.

“We shared common principles, most of all to please listeners and prepare work in advance,” he added.

“Alan came to work on a Vespa before graduating to sports cars. He was always fun and jolly to be with.”

Faridah, who was Zechariah’s contemporary on the Blue Network (now Traxx FM), described him as “a gentleman who knew his work and loved it”.

“The last time we met, he was his usual hearty self. We’ve lost a legend in broadcasting and above all, a true professional who loved his craft, colleagues and listeners.”

Former Cabinet Minister Tan Sri Zaleha Ismail, RTM’s English programme organiser from 1964 to 1969, said Zechariah’s passing was a great loss for broadcasting.

Winston Thomas, Zechariah’s contemporary, said: “His heart was as big as his voice. He embraced life and had a sharp intellect. Alan will live on in the hearts of all he has touched.”

Another colleague Reezal Abdullah described Zechariah as a perfectionist who mastered his profession and brought cheer to listeners with his positivity.

In the late 1980s, he produced a show called Music And Songs In Sentimental Mood, later known as Memories Are Made Of These, which Zechariah hosted and was hugely popular throughout its 12-year run.

Zechariah, 71, is survived by his wife Evelyn and son Adam.

“We’ve lost a legend in broadcasting and above all, a true professional.” Datuk Faridah Merican






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