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Trini broadcast veteran Von Martin honoured in the US

Published: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Von Martin, left, receives the Diaspora Public Service Awards from T&T ambassador to Washington Brigadier General Anthony Phillips-Spencer.

US-based Caribbean broadcaster, Vonulrick (Von) Martin, is an iconic regional media figure. His deep, distinctive, somewhat gravelly voice and undiminished Trini accent are what you are likely to hear when you tune into WPFW 89.3 FM every Saturday evening in the US capital.

Martin recently celebrated 40 years of his pet radio project, Caribbeana, broadcast weekly on Pacifica Radio WPFW and essential listening for West Indians in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.

Not only for the enduring accent, many would find it difficult to imagine that Martin has not lived in the Caribbean for more than 50 years. This is especially so since both T&T and internationally-stationed media people, music producers, entertainers and researchers view him as one of the most reliable sources of news and information on the Caribbean entertainment industry and regional public affairs.

Veteran T&T broadcaster/journalist, Jones P Madeira, who was an early Port-of-Spain-based collaborator with Martin and fellow Trini John Blake at WHUR-FM, based at Howard University, describes the T&T radio personality as “a national figure” who has been “quite outstanding” as a communicator of the Caribbean reality.

“Over the years he has provided a significant link between Caribbean people in Washington DC and, by the extension the United States, and nationals back in Trinidad and the wider region,” Madeira told T&T Guardian.

Madeira said while the modern generation has the tools to communicate relatively easily across international borders, people like Martin and Blake were able to generate an impressive flow of news and information at a time when such technologies did not exist.

Decorated Barbadian broadcaster, Julian Rogers described Von as “another of the Caribbean’s finest exports to the broadcasting world.”

“His knowledge of world affairs and first-hand familiarity with the Caribbean and Latin America made him a special asset where ever he served,” Rogers said.

“Now he celebrates 40 years heading up Caribbeana, a treasure trove of distinctly regional fare that has archived some of the pivotal moments in our history,” Rogers added.

Martin’s brother, UK-based Godfrey Martin, also credits Von with building “a rich archive and legacy that is important for us and our region.”

“To have survived in the non-profit sector for forty years also means that he understood his community and the changing times and has continued to make his programme relevant,” Godfrey said.

“As a young man in Princes Town … he always showed an interest in radio broadcasting and to the sound of his recorded voice,” Godfrey said. Back in those days, the popular radio voices included Ken Gordon, Sam Ghany, Bob Gittens, June Gonzales, Sir Trevor MacDonald and Ashton Chambers.

“I recall visiting … an electrician in Princes Town and we listened to a tape with Von’s voice and the happiness and pride was evident to us younger siblings,” Godfrey said in a tribute to his brother. “These were small simple beginnings but suggested this was the part in which he wanted to make his life’s work.”

Now stationed in Maryland, having retired from full-time employment at Organisation of American States (OAS) Radio in 2008, Von spends all his time researching and presenting Caribbeana and providing training, entertainment and research services through Caribbeana Communications Incorporated (CCI).

“I’m living my dream,” he says.

Von said the initial idea behind the Caribbeana project was “to expose the Caribbean to the rest of the world.”

Vice chairperson of Caribbeana, Rick Martin, describes Von as “the go-to journalist when it comes to news and public affairs of the Caribbean.”

His daughter, Vonetta Martin, is among his sturdiest supporters over the years and serves as Vice President, Resource Development and Operations at CCI. While leading arrangements for last month’s 40th anniversary celebrations, she said: “We should honor who we can for the next day is not promised.”

Through Von, US radio audiences have been exposed to news, interviews and information about leading personalities in the Caribbean entertainment industry including the likes of the Mighty Sparrow, Chalkdust, Growling Tiger, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

He lists among his more memorable, non-musical interviews, encounters with former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell and Caribbean leaders such as Michael Manley and Forbes Burnham.

Von has tutored and inspired broadcasters and journalists spanning generations. Moving from newspapering to radio in 1988, I chose him as chief mentor in the world of radio broadcasting. I still do.

He was honoured at a red carpet event in Washington DC on August 25 for his work as a leader in the business.

T&T ambassador to the USA Brigadier General Anthony Phillips-Spencer, was present with a Diaspora Public Diplomacy Award to be presented to Von and CCI “in recognition of dedicated and significant contributions for promoting the history and heritage of T&T and the wider Caribbean.” (AP)