Clarence Ford's love affair with radio stretches back to the 1970s.
He'd always wanted to be on radio. And when he was told he wasn't good enough, it only made him more determined.
“As a kid we never had TV, we only had radio,” he recalled. “And that pilot gramophone just brought so much joy to my childhood eyes. My mom and dad, listening to the music or listening to the news, finding out what's happening. I found out Elvis died in 1977 via that pilot gram."
Ford was born on April 1, 1967. But he's no April fool.
He is a fountain of knowledge. His early days as a listener rounded out the entire experience. Plus, once you get him talking about radio, his first love, it's hard to get him to stop.
“I would listen to Radio 604 and Radio Lorenzo Marx on shortwave and medium wave. And the local guys were ever present. The Jannie Conradies and the Alan Barnards and the Tony Hats at the time, they were the Good Hope guys. It was all white when I was young. And radio was the only source of entertainment and information. I'm of the last generation that had had a radio as an exclusive source of information and entertainment. I think it honed our ears, not needing to rely on our eyes. Watching or listening to radio dramas like Jeff Jungle because you got enough out of the radio, but the pictures you had to make in your mind. And I think it fuelled your creativity, your imagination. I think TV gives you all the colours, it fills in pictures for you. There's not much work you must do. Your imagination isn't fired like a radio drama does. That is what radio is all about. It's an emotional thing, which I will carry forth with me to the grave."
Radio in Cape Town was huge in the 80s and 90s. At the time Radio Good Hope was leading the way and everyone, including Ford, wanted to work there. And it really was a case of “if at first you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again“.
“And then came along Dmitri Jegels ," said Ford. "For a long time this job was a job I couldn't have. And I had followed all of the presenters that had come through various radio stations. And then there was Dmitri Jegels, when I saw a pic of him I thought this guy looks like me. If he can do it, then I can. Oh my goodness, he also went to Livingstone and I went to Livingstone. So he really became a role model for something that I wanted really badly. It wasn't easy to get in. I was told that I don't have the talent - that was from one of the first managers at Good Hope. And then to be able to come back to Good Hope eventually, that was such an amazing experience. But I wanted radio so badly, I actually went to work, because I was in retail management after doing a short stint being a teacher at Belgravia High in Lansdowne. And then Woolworths offered me a really nice job in Windhoek. I was the foods manager for a new branch of Model Supermarket which was a Woolworths franchise. And it came with a huge house by comparison to what I was familiar with. It came with a pool and so many things.“
In 1990 he approached the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation when the country got independence and said, “Listen I've want to be a DJ ... they did put me on a development and training course which included news reading and interview skills. It did include elocution. So I had to go eh, eh, eh, ba, ba, ba, ba - for a couple of months.”
Ford was the first black person to get a job on the English service on Radio Namibia. From there he worked at Radio Highveld in Johannesburg with some of the big names in South African radio. "I was the first black person there too. Then I ran into the manager of Good Hope FM at Auckland Park in the SABC and he says - hey come to Good Hhope. And that is how Good Hope happened and my Cape Town career came about.
“I think one of the really big highlights of my career has been pushing the envelope. I joined Good Hope at a time in a state of flux. Elections were nearing and the SABC needed to clean and rid itself of its white past and I got a job. And in this fluidity, I introduced Sister. And Sister was the very first presenter to speak Afrikaaps. To speak like we speak around the Cape Flats. From that moment, Capetonians took a real ownership in that particular brand. It was a serious breakthrough with Sister."
Ford's 32-year radio career overflows with special memories. He's interviewed everyone. He singles out a sit-down with former president Nelson Mandela as one of the most memorable.
The next question only cements a long-held belief “Is there anything Clarrie can't do?“ His list of ”been there, done that“ is pretty extensive.
On top of being a formidable the klawerjas (cards) player and a decent golfer, his passion for flying saw him train to fly a Jabiru two-seater plane. “It was an absolutely great experience and something I've always wanted to do," he said proudly. “I'm still trying to get my beats, I've always wanted to play the drum. But I don't think I'll ever be able to take that talent public.”
His popular Sunday night show Me time with Clarence was a concept based on Ford getting “complete discretion” with the music playlist, and he explains “it was a hit from inception“. “In no time the resonance was strong ... cut across a demographic and class divide. We'll have people in Hermanus or Bishopscourt enjoy it as much as Gugulethu. It's that beautiful thing about music, that it can be that universal voice.“
He adds: “We curated the show because we love music. It's not a science. We've got a feeling about what must come next. It's instinctive. So we don't have a plan. We don't go in with a playlist. Most of the songs you hear on a Sunday night are literally chosen within 20 seconds of the end of the previous song. So we are absolutely in the moment. And I think that leads to great inspiration.”
What about regrets? If Ford was given the chance for a do-over, what would he like another shot at?
“Regrets, I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention. I never live with regrets. I make mistakes from time to time and I think you must forgive yourself and I have forgiven myself often enough. And I think that's important. That we're all perfect in our imperfection.”
Thank you for the memories Clarence Ford. Thank you for your incredible service for more than three decades. And to Wendy Ford, thank you for sharing your husband with us.
The next two months are going to be very emotional.