OBITUARY: Peter Johns – the radio driver

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By Terrence Mapurisana

WHEN I first heard that the legendary radio DJ Peter Johns had passed on after seeing some WhatsApp groups that were awash with the alleged passing on, I tried to get the truth of the matter. I got in-touch with all my friends in the UK for verification. All I got was that the information was correct, but no one was willing to give definitive confirmation.

Former Radio 3 Boss John Matinde had exchanged messages with Peter Johns on Sunday, the 26th of April, the day before the death of Peter Johns and said he was trying to get hold of his son, Mark, about the tragic message that had flooded social media. After seeing several tweets, I later found out that indeed the radio driver had passed on. The dynamic DJ had left us.

I first knew PJ, as he was affectionately known, on the then Radio 3 from listening to radio in the late 1980s as well as participating on a number of radio programmes that he hosted during my school days.

He was one of my favourites, I equated him to John Matinde during those years. I loved his style of presentation, including the music that he played on radio. Artists that came to mind include Phil Fearon and Galaxy, Billy Ocean and A Guy Called Gerald. Remember the song Voodoo Ray?

I then had the opportunity to meet PJ live in the studio when we visited ZBC Pockets Hill as a school group. Those that visited Pockets Hill Studios whilst we were in school uniform included Ernest Mutemagawu (We later nicknamed him Peter Johns because from that day on he started imitating PJ), Leonardo Jangano, Ruth Mangoma and the late Forbes Sengu. Those were the days. And during that time and year, 1987, we also tried to form a musical group; don’t ask me what happened. I don’t even remember why we failed to record although we had to seek the help of various renowned musicians.

It was a marvel to see Peter Johns behind the decks with his many record singles and cartridges in the studio, playing the latest songs from UK and the United States of America. He had so many commercials and out-of-this-world jingles to promote his radio shows. He loved what he did behind the microphone.

Fast forward the early 1990s, saw me applying for the Guest DJ slot on the then Radio 3. I was received by Peter Johns, Admire Taderera and Kudzi Marudza. Apparently, PJ is the one who had worked on the jingle for the Guest DJ slot.

I was auditioned and got a letter from the then Station Manager Mrs Musi Khumalo that I had passed. All that remained was for me to go on air. But before that I had to come in for sit- ins with Tony D, Kudzi Marudza and Innocent Manase.

Then the following Sunday, I was thrown in the deep end. I remember PJ telling me that I shouldn’t panic at all as everything was going to be fine. For the whole period that I was on sit-ins I never heard PJ speaking in Shona and up to this day I don’t know whether the veteran DJ was a Shona speaker. But what I knew was that when PJ plays a Shona song, he had no problem in the pronunciation and that song would be a hit somehow. He had the knack to play a song and that song would be a hit.

It was on a Sunday afternoon between 2pm and 6pm when I had my first stint on air. It was soon after the late Hilton Dr Bobo Mambo and what a mammoth task it was. But I pulled through. Aunt Jane Esau was the news reader during my shift. The rest is now history.

Peter Johns hosted a number of programmes on the then Radio 3 of the ZBC. He left Radio 3 in the early 2000s for the United Kingdom where he was a club and radio DJ and a host for many functions. The last time I spoke to him was when I asked him to do me a jingle for my Classic 263 programmes, but unfortunately, I could tell that he was struggling with his voice. I never used the jingle.

When I heard that he was in hospital, I quickly looked for the Guest DJ jingle and my first programme on radio from Classic 263 librarian Farai Kandishaya. He gladly gave it to me. I also searched in my laptop and found one of PJ’s radio programmes which I kept on playing as I drove to and from work. I guess I was inspired by the man.

Indeed, PJ’s health had failed him over the past few years. He died on Monday the 27th of April in UK. His eldest son, Mark, said PJ was in a south London hospital after succumbing to three strokes and a heart attack. PJ was first hospitalized in 2010 after suffering a mild cardiac arrest and was operated on.

According to former Radio 3 DJ Joseph ‘Muzukuru’ Hussein: Peter Johns was his childhood friend, colleague at Radio 3 and Zimbabwe’s finest DJ.”

A local music fan, Tendai Bwanya said: “We are terribly saddened by the passing on of a true radio legend. We can only celebrate his achievements of success. You drove the radio and you have now parked it.

“As we grew up, we loved his voice, his programmes, for he has more than 20 memorable years on radio and club as well as deejaying on internet radio.

“As for PJ, it’s such sad news though he is now at rest. I would follow his shows on PamTengo internet radio. I am gutted,” added Florence Gambiza of Hatfield, Harare.

One programme that comes to mind is the Monday Mellow Madness soon after the radio three Hitsville Top 10.

“We lost a friend in Peter Johns. We worked together for many years. Go well and Rest in peace my friend,” wrote Fungai T Marange, who hosted the weekend shows on Radio Three.

PJ started off as a club DJ in the 1980s at the age of 20. He played at such night clubs as Scamps, Archipelago among other clubs in and around Harare. He was a talented DJ who was so passionate about what he did; he loved his music and he was professional too. His first breakthrough with Radio 3 when he was recruited by John ‘The Boss’ Matinde and was offered a part time slot every Sunday evenings. He was up to date with the music scene, the world over, especially the UK and the USA where he introduced the latest songs from abroad.

According to Fred Zindi, every week Peter Johns would receive at least 10 vinyl albums from either the Unites States or from The United Kingdom through his contacts based in these countries.

Those that also worked with him and shared the decks include Kudzi Marudza, Fungai ‘The Voice’ Marange, Musi ‘Lady Boss’ Khumalo, Innocent Manase, Tony D, Hilton Mambo, Busi Chindove, Alice Chavunduka, Elvis ‘The Demon’ Chimene, among a whole host of others.

He was also popular with the British Top 40 that was aired on Radio 3, presenting the Coca Cola On the Beat (Sounds on Saturday) with Patricia Mabviko and others. He was indeed a shining star. Both on radio and television.

“Do you remember the Dairibord Top 20 chart show. The one used to present alongside Lauretta Wybard…I loved that combination of voices,” recalls Fatima Gombakomba of Glen Norah.

Memory Musarurwa who used to participate on a number of Peter Johns’ programmes said: “He was the true radio driver who could drive through the drive time with his unique radio jingles for the past 20 years and this is a great loss to the listenership of the old generation as his presentation was irresistible.”

It’s incredibly difficult to think about PJ in the past tense. He was a great radio talent, a skilled interviewer who had the opportunity to interview world visiting artists such as Reggae artists like Maxi Priest, Shabba Ranks, Jimmy Cliff and King Sounds a true part of the Radio Three spirit and a wonderful man.

Peter Johns was an incredibly talented broadcaster, a highly respected colleague and much-loved mentor to some of us today.

He was a huge part of the ZBC Radio 3 family and his passion for music always shone through in every programme he presented and produced.

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