BY SAM AKPE
You can’t doubt his star quality. It is conveniently predictable. In broadcasting, he is the inside man—the master of his trade; the authoritative voice behind the huge microphone. He dreams it. Practices it! Lives it! Loves it! Take broadcasting away from him, and you diminish his identity. His name is Eddy Ekpenyong. He was born a few weeks after Nigeria’s independence. He turns 60 today—October 24, 2020.
We call him Eddy. Nobody seems to know, nor has anyone cared to ask whether the name Eddy is Edwin or Edidiong in a short form. He is simply Eddy. Case closed! Our path crossed in the late 80s through our mutual senior friend, the late Dr. Ubong Ndah. Of course, I had known Eddy—by reputation—before we met. Who didn’t know “your party man on radio”that hosted the Cross River Radio weekly sensational “Y-Connection?”
Eddy has a physique that contrasts his reputation. He does not in any way look his age. His fame far outweighs his looks. He made a name as a kid—and has sustained and built upon that identity ever since.
At 60, his time is far from over. For decades, he has established a formidable presence behind the microphone. In the words of Leslie Gelb, he has the “ability and the presence,” and the “absolute will to master” the complexities of the job.
Five words vividly describe Eddy’s success story in broadcast journalism; and he has sustained these attributes over the years. They have earned him awards, recommendations and celebrity status. These are creativity; discipline; dedication, hard-work, and humility. Eddy listens even if he may not eventually agree with you. He hardly shuts down opinions. Ambushed in his 60 years old brain are fresh ideas waiting to be birthed.
Perhaps, journalism runs in his family. His father, Ekpenyong Ekpenyong, was a quintessential journalist and a public relations maestro. He started as a broadcast reporter in the 70s, with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, in Calabar; where he served as news editor, news caster, and producer. Then he took a smooth walk into print journalism at the Nigerian Chronicle; published by the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation. From there, he moved to the Nigerian Standard in Jos where he met his life-long friend and prose-stylist extraordinaire, Dan Agbese.
From Jos, Ekpenyong went to the New Nigerian Newspaper in Kaduna. He was elected National Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) under Chief Michael Asaju as President. After completing his tour of duty, he returned to Cross River State and joined the Ministry of Information. He resigned later to edit the Gong newspaper. Then one day, he dropped the pen and jotter, adjusted his neck-tie, shopped for new suits and moved into corporate public relations practice. This was at the defunct Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company where he served as the pioneer public relations manager before retiring into private media consultancy.
See what I mean? What about Eddy himself? He started as—and still is—a broadcast journalist. Once in a while, he writes specialised articles for print journals. At a point, he took a leave of absence to serve as media chief to a deputy governor in his state. Then, as though, he missed something—yes, he actually missed the microphone—he returned to the studio where he belongs. Presently, he serves as Station Manager, Comfort 95.1 FM in Uyo—a top of the pack radio station in Akwa Ibom State.
So, I can safely conclude that Eddy came to the job with undisputable pedigree. As a kid, he was fascinated by the novelty of radio broadcasting—particularly the radio set. He thought tiny human beings performed in the box. Curiosity ruled his life until he watched to see how his father would supernaturally transform into a tiny being inside the talking box. However, all that ended on January 1, 1972, when he followed his father to the studio. For the first time, he watched him read the news—live! He was 12. Instantly, his curiosity transformed into a dream—an unending dream.
If there is something other than journalism that Eddy and his late father have in common, it is impeccable dress sense. Eddy looks as cute in a pair of jeans trousers and T-shirt as he does in a three-piece suit. You can hardly catch him off-guard.
Please forgive me, because a small-size birthday story is insufficient to compress Eddy’s exploits into. As Tom Cruise stated while writing about J. J. Abrams, it’s hard to convey with brevity the extraordinary experience of knowing, working with and writing about Eddy.
A few days ago, I asked Eddy about his first programme experience in a live studio. He responded with a big smile, “The first day I presented a programme was like a-dream-come-true. I felt larger than life. I was 18 years old. There I was, in a live studio, speaking to the world. It is an experience I won’t ever forget. Despite the fright—which of course every broadcaster experiences on the first day on air—I felt excited. Of course, before then, I had told everybody in my neighbourhood and in my village to listen to the radio because I was coming on air. So, it marked the beginning of my broadcasting career.” His career started in 1979 at the Cross River Radio; in Calabar. He later moved to Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation when the state was created.
Eddy has a diploma in Mass Communication from the defunct Polytechnic, Calabar and a degree in Communication Arts from the University of Uyo. He attended the Basic Production Course (1982) and Basic Journalism Course (1986) at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) Training School in Lagos and came out with merit.
I asked what broadcasting means to him: “Broadcasting, for me, is a means of expressing my talents—a means of expressing my creativity; a means of contributing my own part to the advancement of humanity. For me, broadcasting is life.” He has a voice that seems like something naturally made for the microphone.
One noticeable thing about this Birthday Boy is that in and out of the studio, he holds firmly to his unique selling point: phonetics. He is in love with the study and classification of speech sounds. Whether in the studio casting news or engaging in a pepper soup joint conversation, he believes that a word not phonetically pronounced is a word thoroughly abused. At Comfort 95.1 FM where he calls the shots, he spends hours every week with his staff discussing phonetics and appropriateness of each word in news writing. He hates dangling modifiers and abhors verbosity. Be precise! Be clear! Keep it short!
Eddy does not only love words, he celebrates them. Most times, he doesn’t just read what his subordinates write; he does mental editing while reading. It is his belief that broadcasters have a top-tier—or more of a divine—responsibility to protect words against mispronunciation. So what does he read? “I read every book that I come across.” Most times, when he buys things wrapped with torn pages of newspapers, after consuming the contents, he still reads whatever is in the torn paper. But he prefers books on communication; autobiographies; historic achievements and public relations.
At 60, Eddy’s memory is still extraordinarily sharp. He easily recalls quotes from books or articles he read more than 30 years ago, without missing a word. With a flood of grey hair adorning his head—and this is the only sign that he has crossed 40—Eddy has a humour for every foible.
Every step of the way, his accomplishments in broadcasting—whether in the classroom or in the studio—have been quite impressive. A few years ago, Eddy was at the FRCN for some professional training. At the end, the Course Coordinator, the legendary Benson Idonije, observed that Eddy had attended the course well prepared for the creative business of programme production. He described the student as an intelligent course participant, actively involved in all departments of the course—hardworking, painstaking and outstanding.
He stated that Eddy “lent a lot of creativity and imagination to his end of course project where he produced a highly commendable general interest magazine programme. He had a good choice of presenter, transitions were well established, and items dovetailed, all of which testified to his good knowledge of the techniques of production. Eddy has a flair for the profession, and if encouraged, will be an asset to the profession of broadcasting.” Indeed!
In 1992, Professor Mbuk Mboho, a broadcast specialist who headed the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation, observed Eddy’s “consistent good performance” in the discharge of his functions. In a commendation letter, he stated that the employee’s “dedication and commitment to duty coupled with maturity in programme presentation” deserved huge congratulations.
It was in the same 1992 that Eddy was picked on merit by his State Government to run a two-week test transmission of the FM station of the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation. He became not just a seminal figure in the evolution of the station, but also the first duty announcer of the station on the day of inauguration. He has since retired from there.
At 60, Eddy’s greatest challenge as a broadcast journalist is not about creative ideas. He worries more about being able to get people who think and act professionally. He is concerned about raising a generation of broadcast journalists with captive commitment to excellence—a people with purpose and unrepentant dedication to the job. You can now understand why the grey hair keeps increasing daily.
Well, I set out to say happy birthday to Eddy. But I’ve ended up with a long essay. Forgive me and join in celebrating a senior friend and a brother; a father and a husband, someone that is so professionally shrewd and inspiring; a man who cannot grow old. He only gets livelier. At 60, Eddy is still full of charm and grace—wrinkles are still undecided when to decorate his face. At 60, his elegance both in speech and poise is still intact.
Today, Eddy has joined the Diamond Club. The smiles have not faded. The face is still chubby—a sign that he still has another 60 years to go. Already, he has conquered many obstacles and crossed many rivers.
At 60, he has passed through the valley of the shadow of death. He made it! Today, he has entered another phase of life. Can you see him? While others at his age turn pale, weak and haggard, he is becoming and actually looking more radiant than his age. Instead of withering out and greying carelessly, Eddy has become more fragrant and full of wisdom hair. Happy Birthday, Sir.
SAM AKPE …is our CONSULTING REVIEW EDITOR.