Obituary: Robin Alexander: Veteran radio presenter

08 January 2012 - 02:14 By Christina Kennedy
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
OUPA MOSSIE: Robin Alexander
OUPA MOSSIE: Robin Alexander

ROBIN Alexander, a radio presenter known among his legions of listeners for signing on as "the minister of midnight affairs", died at his home in Parktown North, Johannesburg, on Wednesday morning at five minutes past 12, as he was preparing for bed. He was 73 years old.

He had suffered a heart attack.

Renowned as much for his booming voice as for his irrepressible lust for life, Alexander was the quintessential "gentleman broadcaster" who played a pivotal role in shaping the South African radio landscape during a career spanning more than 40 years.

Born in Durban in 1938, Alexander completed his schooling at Highbury Primary School and Durban High School before joining the SABC's English service in Durban at the age of 17 as a newsreader, in 1955.

His mother, Isabel Alexander, had already distinguished herself as the first female announcer in the country, and the first woman to broadcast externally from South Africa.

Apparently unable to speak a word of Afrikaans, he had no choice but to learn the language very quickly when, aged 19, he was dispatched to the SABC's Bloemfontein studios as a newsreader.

This "sink or swim" crash course would form the grounding for his knack in later years to switch seamlessly between English and Afrikaans on the air.

He left the SABC to work for LM Radio in Mozambique for a few years, before returning for a stint at Springbok Radio.

Alexander's big break came when he was among the founding presenters on the SABC's new FM station Radio Highveld (now Primedia's 94.7 Highveld Stereo) in 1964.

As the host of the breakfast show and subsequently the afternoon drive, he became a beloved fixture on the regional airwaves.

His watch saw the introduction of the station's traffic helicopter - much to the delight of his sons Ross and Robbie, who would boost their street cred on the odd occasion that they were allowed to take their friends up for a flip in the whirlybird.

It was also while at Highveld that Alexander initiated what became an unexpected radio phenomenon: the stories he wove around the birds in his garden. Headmasters would complain about children arriving late for school as they lingered at home, waiting for the latest installment about Oupa Mossie and his fellow feathered friends.

These anecdotes became such a hit that onlookers would shout out "Robin!" whenever he and his family drove past en route to one of the local dams with his boat in tow, sporting the name "Oupa Mossie".

When the SABC amalgamated the night service of all its FM stations under the Radio Orion banner, Alexander was brought on board as anchor.

From midnight, the airwaves would come to life with his big voice, his easy, conversational style and his familiar catch phrases such as "brrrright-eyed and bushy-tailed", "the Lion of Orion" and "Mrs Alexander's youngest and prettiest".

Such was his popularity, livening up the lonely hours for night owls and graveyard-shift drivers that Radio Orion's audience soon became one of the largest in the country. This would become his flagship programme.

After the SABC's restructuring post-1994, he and other freelancers were let go and Alexander moved on to community radio stations Radio Today and Cani FM.

One day - during health hour on Radio Today's afternoon show, while chatting to a doctor in studio - he suffered his first heart attack.

Following that scare, Alexander wound down his broadcasting activities and concentrated on travelling extensively, both locally and abroad, with his wife Ros.

They particularly loved loading the dogs into the car and heading to the family house in Shaka's Rock in KwaZulu-Natal.

He also had a passion for motorcycles and helped pioneer the Magalies breakfast run.

Eight years ago, Alexander suffered a series of strokes that led to pneumonia, rendering him comatose for two months.

However, recently he appeared to have been returning to robust health, and had spent a "stunning" Christmas and New Year in good spirits with his family at Hartbeespoort Dam, telling stories to his rapt granddaughters.

This knack for spinning an entertaining yarn was one of the hallmarks of Robin Alexander, described by his son Ross as a "larger-than-life kind of man" who believed that "life was for the living".

A recovering alcoholic, he had not touched a drink for 48 years.

Robin Alexander is survived by Ros, his wife of 46 years, sons Ross and Robbie, their spouses, and five grandchildren .

The funeral service is on Wednesday at St Columba's in Parkview, Johannesburg, at 11am.

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now