Eddie Zondi, the man with the golden voice. SABC2 will broadcast a special tribute to him on Sunday at 8pm.

The curtain has closed on one of the most illustrious radio careers of modern times in South Africa, writes Ike Phaahla.

Johannesburg - “If tomorrow never comes, who knows… my name is Eddie Makhosonke Zondi, thank you for the love, till next time….”

With those words, the curtain closed on one of the most illustrious radio careers of modern times in the history of black commercial radio in South Africa.

Youth Day 2014 started as a normal day for most of us, but the radio world turned upside down when news filtered through that one of the most recognised voices had suddenly been silenced by death.

I learnt of the news through an SMS and called a few people who confirmed the sad news.

My immediate thoughts were with his close family, friends and colleagues, but the people that would most miss him are the listeners of his Romantic Repertoire show on Metro FM on Sundays.

Sunday will never be the same without “The President” or “Eddie Baby”, the creator of the Love Connection.

I met this giant in 1991 at Highgate Shopping Mall. He ran the centre’s radio station with a studio that was open to the listening and shopping public. The music drew me to the studio and the host came and introduced himself.

I was humbled to be recognised by Eddie as I had just started in my radio career. Eddie was a passionate person; he had a hearty laugh that could without warning turn serious, which I found fascinating.

He was a fast talker and used his hands a lot to drive home a point. We spoke about radio and his aspirations to conquer the airwaves.

Radio Metro (now Metro FM) had a formidable line-up then, which included the likes of Bob Mabena, Lawrence Tlhabane (Dube), Shado Twala, Tim Modise and the Musical Doctor Vusi Letswalo.

I made Eddie aware of the hurdles that he would face but his determination reminded me of the same hunger I had had before joining the station.

He focused on submitting his demo tapes, visiting the studio on occasions and meeting the team on outside broadcasts, such as those at the Rand Easter Show.

He befriended most of the presenters, even though he knew them only from the radio. You could never resist his charm and in the end he became everyone’s friend before being a colleague.

In 1996, he was given an opportunity to do a graveyard shift, where most of us had honed our skills.

Eddie never complained, he took the opportunity with both hands and confounded many of his critics. He won over a lot of people with his impeccable choice of music.

Radio Metro was a solid music station, where the presenter was a link and the music the main driver, but Eddie’s personality came through and won him many adoring fans.

He was then given the early morning show between 3am and 6am, and despite the ungodly hours, he did his best to grow a good-sized audience.

He never took the gig for granted, and made sure he delivered his best.

To Eddie every opportunity to be on radio was a blessing – he knew that he had to be on top of his game if he was to retain his spot regardless of the time of day.

He was to continue with this feat for 18 more years despite numerous attempts to take him off air.

Every radio programmer worth his salt will tell you that you need a good foundation for any station: the morning show must to be able to hold on to an audience that will remain throughout the day. Eddie was that foundation for Metro for quite a long time.

He turned the early morning show into prime-time radio. The success of the Morning Breakfast Show was largely through the foundation that was laid by the man who endeared himself to many listeners throughout the country with his taste in good music and by opening his phone lines to interact with his listeners.

When he decided to make a compilation of his favourite music, I did not see that as competition but as his way of leaving a living legacy long after he had gone.

Eddie sought advice on things he was not sure of – the mark of a humble soul.

The past week has been full of tributes for Eddie and his passing has made us all acutely aware of our mortality.

I would like to commend the station management and the listeners for sharing their memories, as well as the many colleagues who reminisced about this great voice.

I was impressed with the manner in which everybody rallied together to make sure Eddie received the respect that he deserved.

Eddie grew up in Soweto and I guess that is how we became close. I went to his parents’ house on several occasions and was not surprised by the ease with which he interacted with his neighbours.

Fame never went to his head, it did not change who he was when he was with his childhood friends and neighbours.

When he met with an accident and we visited him in hospital, you could see the pride that his family took in Eddie.

He never took them for granted and dearly loved his folks.

His friends became my friends – Ntokozo Gwamanda, who also grew up with Eddie, is a dear friend, and so is Mike Ntombela. The catalyst was Eddie Zondi.

Eddie was a Buccaneer through and through – he loved Orlando Pirates and was a football fanatic. Many don’t know that he was a good footballer as well.

We had a team at Metro and he used to be one of our best players.

I have no doubt that he was looking forward to the current Fifa World Cup tournament and would have been very opinionated about the performances of the various teams. I’m truly saddened by the passing of this great broadcaster at such a young age.

I would like to extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, his friends, colleagues and listeners. I’m humbled to have known and interacted with Makhosonke.

He was a man who carved a niche for himself in the tough radio industry and left footprints that will remain there for a long time to come.

To him, I say: “You will forever be in our hearts, may your soul rest in eternal peace. ’Till next time. RIP.”

* Ike Phaahla is a radio veteran and now a media specialist at SANParks.

Sunday Independent