The Rev Alan Maker who has been living at Onrus Manor with his wife, Margie for the past 13 years is a man of many talents and a wide range of interests. Not only is he a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church of SA, but he has been a radio broadcaster since he was a teenager in Durban in the late 1950s. He is also an enthusiastic member of that illustrious and exclusive British institution, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), based at Lord’s cricket ground in London, and is currently writing a book about some of the great moments in cricket that he has witnessed.
Now he has been inducted into the Liberty Radio Hall of Fame for his many years of service to radio broadcasting in South Africa, an unexpected honour which he greatly appreciates. In those early days of his involvement, all radio productions were live and he remembers for the first couple of shows being so nervous that he was completely tongue-tied and couldn’t get a word out. He and the three other teenagers who took part were each given a book voucher for 10/6 (ten shillings and six pence) per show in payment, which was later increased to 11/6.
It was radio that taught Alan all he knew about public speaking, which came in handy after he was ordained as a minister of religion. During those pre-TV days he met many of the Durban-based radio celebrities of the time – Tom Meehan, Dale Cutts, Robin Alexander, Joan Brickhill and her husband Louis Burke, as well as some legendary visiting British performers like Anna Russel and Tessie O’Shea (‘Two-ton Tessie’).
His foray into the field of entertainment took a back-seat for eight years while he underwent his theological training and entered the ministry in Natal. Then after answering the call to serve at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, he was recalled to the airwaves. By that time, Springbok Radio had closed down and some of its broadcasters – Peter Lotis, Bob Courtney and Gerrie van Wyk – had established an independent, medium-wave station called Radio Today (very confusing since the SABC’s English Service featured a programme of that name at the same time).
Robin Alexander called him one day and asked if he would like to present a two-hour music and phone-in programme for the station twice a week. “I told him I had no idea how to be a disc-jockey,” remembers Alan, “but all I got from him was ‘you can learn’ – and learn I did.” When well-known presenter, Shirley Veale became ill, he took over her slot for the other three days a week as well, and soon he and his late-night programme, The Wishing Well had become an institution.
During this time, Alan also participated in church service broadcasts from St Columba’s every Easter and Christmas and, perhaps surprisingly, there was more and more cross-pollination between his two ‘jobs’. “At least my parishioners knew what I was up to late at night,” he quips, “and then, of course, some listeners and radio colleagues also became members of the congregation.” Certainly, as broadcasters like Gordon Mulholland, Robin Alexander and Will Bernard shuffled off this mortal coil, he was the go-to man for conducting funerals.
When he retired to Hermanus, his parishioners gave him a sound mixer, so that he could continue producing a programme for Radio Today, even after it had changed hands. He describes himself as the clumsiest person alive – all fingers and thumbs. As he says, life was easier when one had a controller to handle the technical aspects of the broadcasts, but in time he had to learn to master them himself. “I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning,” he grimaces, “but once computers came on the scene, it was much easier and it became possible for me to carry on with it in Hermanus.”
So every Saturday morning between 06:00 and 08:00 his programme, From my Window, can be heard on DSTV channel 869 and live-streamed on www.radiotoday.co.za. He has converted a small room in his house into a mini-recording studio and chooses his music for the programme from several shelves of CDs he has collected over the years. The programme is pre-packaged and he can therefore no longer take on-air telephone calls, but he intersperses his music with chit-chat about a wide range of topics. All this is downloaded into Dropbox and sent off to the station in Johannesburg in time for the weekly broadcast. “All I want to do is make people happy,” he says. “There is just too much misery around.”
There is no doubt about it, Alan Maker may be officially retired, but he continues to lead a busy, schizophrenic lifestyle, governed by his three great passions – the church, radio broadcasting and cricket (he still tries to visit Lord’s once a year and owns a collection of interesting cricketing memorabilia). He claims that most ministers have fragile egos; his well-earned position in the Radio Hall of Fame is therefore especially important to him.