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OBITUARY | Long John Berks: mensch, change-maker, SA radio legend

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OBITUARY | Long John Berks: mensch, change-maker, SA radio legend

The airwaves will be poorer without the veteran broadcaster’s recognisable voice keeping us entertained

Robin Binckes

“Tell me it’s not true ... he hasn’t gone.” Those were the words of John Berks’s beloved partner of 16 years Manda Wessels, when I asked what I could do to help. The words sum up the feelings of every one of us who knew him, even if only slightly.

For those of us who knew him well, it is as if we have lost a slice of ourselves, so much part of us had he become. His death is more than the loss of a dear friend; it signals the end of an era and makes us realise how vulnerable we all are with the passing of a legend.

I was fortunate enough to write John’s biography in 2016. Fortunate, because though I superficially knew John, on the road we travelled together in writing the book I managed to get to know him, probably as well as anyone ever would. What a privilege that turned out to be. An enigma, who was probably the most self-effacing personality I have ever met, yet he was the man whose honey, oil and chuckle voice transformed the radio industry of SA. Almost shy and retiring in public, as if a switch had been thrown, he became a different personality behind a microphone. His effect on people who listened to him on radio was instantaneous. Faces would light up at the mere mention of his name and through the “theatre of the mind” (how John described radio) that he would create, he would transport the listener into another wonderful world of make believe and escapism even if only fleetingly. John was the conjuror of radio magic. That is why we all feel cheated at his passing. He brought so much to so many people and helped them cope with the day-to-day stress of living...

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