LM Radio once broadcast the sounds of freedom into Apartheid SA — now it's back
Shut down 40 years ago, Mozambique's LM Radio has made a comeback as Lifetime Memories and is gaining new fans
Sultry dusk descends over the Art Deco change rooms at the Clube dos Empresarios — the businessmen's club — as the courtyard lights shimmer on the pool. I'm sitting with a 2M beer, and Petula Clark is exhorting me from hidden speakers not to sleep in the subway. Shirley Bassey soon follows with luscious Goldfinger. Can you blame me for feeling like Sean Connery — or at the very least one of Graham Greene's seedy spies?
Nostalgic and unashamedly sentimental, this is the sound of LM Radio. Every day, it ripples across Maputo - in taxis, cafes and government offices, even. In a nod to the golden oldies that form the bulk of its playlist, the "LM" today stands for "Lifetime Memories". Fifty years ago it stood for Maputo's former name, Lourenço Marques.
The man responsible for relaunching LM Radio is Chris Turner.
"Radio has been my love since a very young age," he says when we meet at the station's studio in the Marés shopping centre.
He remembers his dad, a radio enthusiast, tuning into the BBC World Service and Voice of America. "I was fascinated by listening to all these stations from far away."
By the time he was eight, he was building his own radios. He quickly became a fan of the original LM Radio — which he would re-broadcast from a homemade transmitter on medium wave to the rest of Fish Hoek, where he lived.
Enthralled by pictures of the palms and beaches of the old Lourenço Marques, "I used to imagine LM as a sort of island paradise," he says. "It captured the imagination." He loved the '60s pop and rock it played — including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and Manfred Mann.
The music was completely different to the SABC's "very sanitised" fare: "Anything that had any sort of sexual or revolutionary innuendo was completely banned" by the state broadcaster.
Across the border — and beyond South Africa's censorious jurisdiction — LM Radio was able to play banned music, including songs by black South African and African-American artists, as well as those who publicly opposed apartheid.
Established in 1935, LM Radio was Africa's first commercial radio station — a collaboration between a group of amateur radio enthusiasts, Radio Clube de Mozambique, and the entrepreneurial South African GJ McHarry, who had been inspired by the success of independent Europe-based stations. In the 1930s, these were being beamed across to the UK where the BBC had a monopoly over the airwaves — rather like the SABC did in South Africa at the time.
block_quotes_start Across the border — and beyond South Africa's censorious jurisdiction — LM Radio was able to play banned music, including songs by those who publicly opposed apartheid block_quotes_end
The station was a huge hit, its profits going towards the building of a Radio Palace — featuring some of the most advanced broadcasting kit in the world — in central Lourenço Marques.
"The hit parade as we know it was actually invented at LM Radio," Turner says. Previously, chart toppers were played by a radio station's orchestra. Station manager David Davies (who had been at Radio Normandy before World War 2) decided the original tracks should be played instead. It was the first station in the world to do this.
"In 1969, market research in South Africa said there were 2.4 million South Africans listening to LM Radio. That was bigger than the listenership of the SABC," Turner says.
In 1973, the SABC bought the station, concerned that the war of independence being waged by Frelimo against Mozambique's Portuguese rulers would ultimately lead to the station falling into unfriendly hands. After independence in 1975, the station was shut down.
For Turner, reviving the station 40 years later has been about serving baby-boomer listeners who have been ignored by youth-obsessed South African stations. In recent years, music from the 1960s and '70s has scarcely featured on our airwaves — and he is determined to change that.
In 2010, after five years of painstaking preparation, the new LM Radio got its permanent Mozambican FM frequency, 87.8, broadcasting across an 80km radius from Maputo (including across the border in Komatipoort).
A Maseru transmitter means it can also be heard on 104FM in the eastern Free State. It can be streamed online or on its smartphone app and is available on satellite from both DStv and Open View. Gauteng listeners will soon be able to listen to it on 702AM, when its Welgedacht transmitter gets switched on later this year.
Listeners in South Africa tend to be older than 45. "They like the nostalgia aspect of it," says Turner, "whereas here in Maputo, nearly half our listeners are under 25. It's because we're different. Nobody else plays the music that we play - they all play this head-banging doef-doef."
It's perhaps not surprising, then, that the station was voted best radio station in Mozambique for three years consecutively.
"We've stayed true to the original model, which is an intimate presentation style. We have one presenter in the studio, except for our Saturday morning programme where we interact with people in the shopping mall, so we have two... We talk to you... we don't have two people sitting in the studio talking about their lives and what they do — it's about the listener. It's more music, less talk."
There are 12 or 13 tracks an hour, whereas South African radio stations typically play only seven or eight.
"Mozambique has been very good to us. Initially we were told by all sorts of people we'd have trouble licensing an English language radio station, and we'd have trouble with the name 'LM Radio'."
Turner says there was some resistance, but it was nowhere near as bad as people said it would be.
"I'm not the sort of person who gives up," he laughs.
TUNE INTO LM RADIO:
• Maputo, Ressano Garcia, Ponta do Ouro: 87.8FM
• Maseru: 104FM
• Open View HD (OVHD): Audio channel 602
• DStv: audio channel 821
• Planned launch in Gauteng April 2017: 702kHz AM
sub_head_start DJ NICK MEGEN RETURNS TO HIS OLD LM RADIO GIG sub_head_end
For Nick Megens, hosting LM Radio's breakfast show is "totally full circle" — it's what he was doing more than 40 years ago on the original station. The Dutch son of an itinerant UN official, he got a DJ gig in his early 20s after a chance encounter with two LM Radio presenters at Lourenço Marques's English Club.
In 1973, after three months of training, he was given "the graveyard shift" in the early hours of the morning, which he loved. "It's amazing how many people listen at night," he says - such as nurses and firemen. He was then promoted to the breakfast show.
"Living in Mozambique was paradise," he says. "The way of life was simple." After finishing his shift he would head to the beach, have lunch, then nap until 9pm. "Everything was cheap. Even on our small salaries that we got, we could afford to go out every day."
Back then a dozen prawns cost about R2. He would dine at Peri Peri (which still serves its legendary chicken today) or drink at hotel bars. Sometimes visitors to the city would pop into the studio and take the presenters out for dinner; afterwards they would head to the city's strip clubs (then banned in South Africa).
In 1974, disgruntled Portuguese settlers staged a coup against their government in protest at its decision to hand power over to Frelimo without elections. They took over strategic points such as the airport and the Radio Palace.
Along with station manager Gerry Wilmot and the newbie presenter John Novik, Megens took turns — three hours on, three hours off — to keep LM Radio on air. "We hardly got any sleep and, of course, you had to wash in a hand basin, you didn't have any clean clothes. It was crap."
The rebels gave them bags of oranges and occasionally a loaf of bread - as well as piles and piles of cigarettes. "They thought probably we'd smoke ourselves to death," he says. They were allowed to leave, but "if you left, you weren't allowed back in", so they kept at their posts.
block_quotes_start There were a couple of grenades lobbed into the building. I'm no hero - when you hear a grenade go off, you actually crap your pants block_quotes_end
The Portuguese army took control of the building 10 days later. "There was a lot of fighting going on with guns being fired, and then there were a couple of grenades lobbed into the building. I'm no hero - when you hear a grenade go off, you actually crap your pants."
A year later, the four-month old Frelimo government nationalised LM Radio's facilities and shut the station. The SABC's replacement was Radio 5 — today known as 5fm. Megens, as breakfast show host, was the first presenter on air. The studio (at the SABC's then headquarters in Commissioner Street) was swarming with journalists; the champagne was flowing.
Megens recalls the SABC chairman standing behind him, giving him a shoulder rub, telling him, "Jy doen goed seun, jy doen goed (You're doing well, son)."
"Of course I go and bloops it all up by saying 'Dis nou sesuur en jy luister na LM Radio ... ek bedoel Radio Vyf!' (It's 6am and you're listening to LM Radio ... I mean Radio 5!)," he recalls. Luckily "everybody was laughing".
sub_head_start JOHN BERKS' DEBUT ON LM RADIO sub_head_end
In 1964, 23-year-old John Berks arrived in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique, rattled by his first flight (in a Dakota) and sweating with nervousness. This is how his biographer Robin Binckes describes Berks's first day at LM Radio:
"Darryl [Jooste] flipped a switch. The dials and monitors lit up with a warm humming sound. John wanted to vomit.
"That's the VU monitor," said Darryl. "Always watch that and remember, pump it up. Pump it up. Boss David Davies will always be watching the VU monitor so you had better as well. Remember. Pump it up. Pump it up."
John nodded, looking at the VU monitor as if it was David Davies himself.
"This is mike one... On switch ... Off switch... Record turntable..." He clicked a switch and the turntable began to spin. John's head was spinning just as fast... He felt himself slipping deeper and deeper into quicksand as Darryl adroitly flicked switches and slid control rulers to demonstrate.
"That's the pot... Volume controller... That's the amp meter..."
John was silent, at a loss for words.
"Are you okay, Berksie?"
"Do... do... do you do this all by yourself?"
"Haha, Berksie! You are funny. Yes, you fly your own kite here. Piece of cake."
John came very close to fainting."
• Extracted from 'What a Boykie: The John Berks Story', by Robin Binckes, in bookstores now