'Babatunde' signs off
WITTER... described as the most impactful radio talk show host of the late 20th century

FEARLESS and feisty Winston Witter commanded the Jamaican media landscape like a colossus for more than three decades.

From his early days fresh out of Kingston College to the Jamaica Daily News, The Gleaner, the Jamaica Record, the Sunday Herald, a columnist for the Jamaica Observer, and a talk show host on JBC Radio, KLAS FM and BESS FM, among others, Witter proved a knowledge source and a probing journalist.

But the man who later dubbed himself “Babatunde” — a Nigerian name which means 'The father has returned' — exited the stage on Wednesday when he died at the University Hospital of the West Indies, where he had been admitted on Sunday.

He was taken to the hospital after he was found unconscious at his home. Witter had been diagnosed with cirrhosis. He was 64 years old.

As news of the death of Witter spread yesterday, members of the political, business and media fraternity paid their respect to the man many called “Baba”.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange said that she was deeply saddened by the death of Witter, who also served as a University of the West Indies lecturer.

“During his illness, I kept in touch with Winston 'Babatunde' Witter, whom I regarded as my friend, and I gave him support to the extent that I could. I was also in contact with his family members who were there for him throughout his difficulties.

“There was no doubt that Babatunde made an impact during his extensive career in the mass media,” said Grange.

“We also remember Winston for the resilience he showed coming back from a life-threatening road accident which temporarily paused his radio programme but never diminished his popularity,” added Grange, with reference to a motor vehicle crash on October 21, 1998 which left him with severe head injuries and resulted in loss of memory for the journalist and broadcaster

Grange expressed condolence to Witter's daughter, Kadie-Ann Witter Domville, his son-in-law Alvin, granddaughter Kayjahdin Domville, his siblings, friends and associates.

Veteran journalist and head of Nationwide News Network Cliff Hughes described Witter as the most impactful radio talk show host of the late 20th century.

“He reigned supreme for about three years on KLAS during that programme [ Straight Talk]. He had a special ability to speak the language of the common people and to mix that with the Queen's English in a flash,” said Hughes.

“He was very good at what he did and he will be missed,” added Hughes, noting that after the 1998 accident Witter never returned to the Babatunde that people knew and loved during the peak of his career.

Hughes noted the Witter had a personality and a spirit that would make people laugh.

“He had the ability to be witty and to provide humour to the most serious of issues. Certainly one of the most impactful of our peers we have had in this country, certainly to the turn of this century,” added Hughes.

Witter's ability to make people laugh was also underscored by attorney-at-law Delano Franklyn, who was his schoolmate at Kingston College, and former president of the Press Association of Jamaica Desmond Richards, who described Witter as someone who was a fierce defender of Jamaican journalism and press freedom on a whole.

“Winston was a teacher, many of us including you, benefited from Winston's knowledge and his willingness to impart and guide us at the university and in journalism. Winston made sacrifices for journalists.

“I know that Winston took young men off the street and trained them to be first-class journalists. How can I forget Winston's sense of humour? Winston was the type of person who made you laugh,” added Richards who noted that Witter was a hard taskmaster in the newsroom but made the work lighter for his colleagues.

In the meantime, Franklyn, who replaced Witter as the host of the JBC Radio talk programme Shades of the Morning, told the Jamaica Observer that they had known each other from the early 1970s in high school.

“Winston always had the flair for the dramatic coupled with his flair for the English language and a love for writing. I was not surprised that Winston decided to enter the field of journalism and became a well-known journalist across the length and breadth of Jamaica,” said Franklyn.

“Winston was a man from the streets based on the community where he grew up [off Mountain View Avenue in St Andrew] and he never left the streets listening to the people. He coupled that with the tertiary education that he received and love for local and international politics,” added Franklyn.

BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-Large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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