Broadcasting legend Luke Susuta dies at 77

Luke Susuta in Studio A, August 1984

Family members, friends, former colleagues and prominent members of the media community were among hundreds of people who turned out at the All Saints Church in Honiara yesterday to say their final farewell to pioneering radio legend Luke Susuta.

Susuta, who died around 5pm on Sunday, March 4 at his Mbaranamba residence, would have been 78 in May.

Susuta had many claims to fame. Back in the early days, broadcasting was almost an exclusive club for the lucky, talented few.

At 18, Susuta joined broadcasting soon after leaving the King George VI School in Auki in 1958. He was appointed as clerk-in-training with the Broadcasting Department of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate on January 25 of that year. Susuta’s probation took two and half years. His boss, broadcasting officer R.F. Calvert, treated him as his own son. Mr Calvert also lodged Susuta at his ‘clerk quarter’.

Prior to 1969, Susuta was one of only six local broadcast staff in the Department of Broadcasting and Information. They were the country’s pioneer broadcasters — Bill Bennett, Ellison Tangarau, Welchman Teilo, Paul Beni and Roy Kelosi. All but Mr Kelosi have lived well and departed.

In an earlier interview with SIBC, ‘Uncle Luke’, as he was known to his listeners, said, “In those days, the public would write in, requesting the type of program they want to hear on-air. That’s how the famous custom story program came about.”

He said once he entered the recording studio, he would go through his script only once, put it away and then allow his mind to craft the story. If it was about a frog, he would visualise the amphibian, the shape, size, skin colour, its surroundings and everything about it.

“Creativity is what’s special about radio,” he said.

That was his secret to captivating listeners’ attention in custom storytelling.

On January 18, 1984, then-SIBC trainer Martin Hadlow wrote to Susuta congratulating him on being awarded the British Empire Medal for services to broadcasting.

“We were all delighted to learn that your long and faithful service had been rewarded in such a way,” he wrote. “Please accept our congratulations.”

In the field of broadcasting, Susuta’s strong native accent gave him a distinctive voice and cadence.

“The world was a better place and Solomon Islands was a happier country when Mr Luke Susuta served the young and old over the airwaves in Solomon Islands,” said SIBC Board Chair Robert Iroga. “His custom stories were memorable and legendary and his other productions full of the vitality of his enthusiasm, colour and character, which we now mourn as he leaves us.”

Writing to his former colleague’s family, SIBC CEO Ashley Wickham said, “Please let all relatives know that we hold him in very high esteem and that the standards he set for good quality and creative programming are still the benchmark for all young broadcasters today.”

Uncle Luke dedicated half of his life to serving his listeners. After leaving SIBC around 1986, the corporation could not find anyone to replace him. SIBC had to hire him again on contract for the 10 years that followed at the request of his custom story audience.

And Uncle Luke was the same guy off-air that he was on-air.

Aside from his hilarious antics, he was able to build people up in just one chat. He made them feel as though they could achieve anything.

Susuta was a special man; a kind and warm character, immensely talented, perceptive and a demonstrator of exquisite taste. Even better, he truly cared about the world. And he was a good friend to all in broadcasting.

By Leni Dalavera

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