BANGKOK PERSONALITY JIM DAVISON
By Kevin Cain
Having this month’s Pattaya Trader theme as Bangkok and relating to everything about Thailand's wonderful and diverse capital, it seemed to make sense that our Pattaya Personality would be a Bangkok Personality in this issue. As it was bought to my notice a few years back by a close friend, that there was a fabled DJ called Jim Davison, who had been broadcasting on the radio in Bangkok for as long as he could remember.
Jim hit the headlines a couple of years ago when he became the oldest radio presenter in the world. Although he was a little fuzzy of his actual age at the time it was widely accepted that he was one hundred years old when he made the broadcast.He said
“Things were going really well till I hit 99.”
His health was good and he was pretty active. But unfortunately now he suffers with a back problem and his mobility, getting around is no longer as easy as it once was.
Born in Australia, Jim had what you would describe as a difficult childhood but he credits his grandmother for instilling in him the values of honesty and truthfulness. In 1942 Jim joined the Merchant Navy and left his native Australia never to return, apart from as a visitor. He transferred to the American Services and remained in the USA until the end of the war when he then became an Elevator Boy in the Big Apple.
After facing a traumatic experience of being the subject of an armed robbery he left the States and went to London, but during the voyage met somebody that changed his life, and soon he was in Africa's Gold Coast working in a Goldmine in Prestea. During his stay in Prestea he met the love of his life: Penelope. She was not a particularly pretty lady having a wrinkled face, a mouth that was just too large and a very ugly pink behind! Penelope was of course a Chimpanzee. Jim rescued her from Takoradi Market,
“She had the saddest eyes peering at me from her bamboo prison.”
Jim bargained for her release and they became bosom pals during all the years of Jim's stay in Africa.
However it was during his next move to Tangiers that his love affair with broadcasting came about. He took a job with the Pan American Broadcasting System and as a consequence of a loan repayment gone wrong found he had inherited what Jim thought was a bar, but turned out to be a very saucy bordello. Eventually when his time in Morocco came to an end he made his way back to London and worked in Radio Overseas Rediffusion for a year. Then his adventurous streak took a hold of him again and he went on over a long period of time to live and work in eight different countries. His sketchy but popular piano playing sometimes having to support his daily existence.
In 1956 he continued his radio work in Trinidad and then on to Caracas in Venezuela. His arrival was simultaneous with the revolution that was taking place so he was presented with a gun and two armed bodyguards to take him to the studio every day.
Next on the agenda was Hong Kong and from 1962-64 Jim spent two years broadcasting on TV and radio, but money was tight and he was only scratching a living. So after a brief time in Brunei he found himself in Thailand in 1965 with $50 in his pocket and no job to go to. But Thailand immediately felt like the home he had been searching for after such a long and epic journey.
“I admire the tolerance, the respect for elders like myself,”
he confided. His long time love affair with the country and its people who had adopted him flourished.
Jim decided to look for work in earnest and although there were about 100 Thai stations in the country at the time, there was no real English speaking station and definitely no commercial one. So Jim started visiting the Thai Public Relations Department where he put together a proposal for a show on Tor Tor Tor 95FM.
Radio was just in it's infancy at that time and as the salary offered to him was a mere pittance, Jim went to secure sponsorship from local businesses.
By 1966 the Early Bird Show was broadcast and proved to be an immediate hit. Jim's day started at 3.30am visiting the Bankok World Newspaper for up-to-date and current news which could be broadcast duringthe Early Bird Show that went on air at 6am.Within three months there was great demand for advertising time on the station and Jim became the highest paid employee at the company through his sponsors. The show continued for another ten years dominating the capital's airways. It was a commercial success and Thailand had woke up to the concept of radio advertising. Jim was not particularly aware of the fact but he had just launched commercial radio in Thailand single-handedly.
I asked Jim what were the biggest differences between broadcasting back then and today?
“The pace was different back then, also radio was king with every household drooling over those corny old standards.” “You even had to have the radio on for the commentary if you were watching sport on TV.”
The Early Bird Show was now an institution with it's fresh music and overall relaxed format. Jim was continuously injecting new ideas into the show and interviewing famous personalities. He used Sam Scott's Yard of Ale pub on Convent Road for many of his interviews and there he met luminaries of the time such as; Bob Hope, Margaret Whiting, Johnny Mathis and The Platters.
Jim was at the forefront of broadcasting in the fledgling Thai radio scene being instrumental in bringing English Language stations to all the expats and businessmen living in the capital. His skills as a presenter being finally honed with his experience of the world and many other cultures. This continues to be reflected in his knowledgeable commentaries and general broadcasting style and technique. His voice is pure theatre with an accent inherited by years of traveling and being influenced by many different cultures and languages.
Musing back on the years he says
“Thailand has been very kind to me, and in my radio work I've always received so much support,” “In my private life I've made some wonderful friendships.” But he continued saying that during the last thirty years many friend have passed away, “It is a bit like going to a fairground when everybody has gone home.”
“It has been radio that provided a lifetime of pleasure and fulfillment, bought me in contact with interesting people and in spite of the hard work, has given me lots of enjoyment.”
“I suppose the rather sad fact on the matter of longevity, is that many people just can't keep up and fall by the wayside.”
Jim has kept his good health due to the help of alternative medicine but his views on keeping fit is that
“Exercise can kill you.”
Regarding the issue of his now being the oldest DJ in the world? Things are a little confused. Consulting the Guinness Book of Records he is currently not shown as such but there again Jim has never approached the publication to put his case forward. That accolade goes to a lady in the USA who is 94 but certainly if they knew of Jim he would undoubtedly beat her by some considerable gap.
Jim is currently broadcasting on 88FM Radio Thailand, 90.5FM Radio Phuket and 96.75FM Radio Samui and you can tune in and listen to his unique broadcasts on Sundays.
Seldom do people actually make it to Jim's age and certainly not many of them still work at 100.
“I like to inject humour into the show where possible, not bawdy but a little risque,' he chuckles. Talking to Jim it is easy to see that his enthusiasm for what he does has not been diminished through the years, if anything it is as fresh now as ever.
“Some people think I should call it a day and perhaps they are right, but I would rather make these latter days worthwhile and endeavor to remain a has been rather than a never was.”
I would never have the audacity to call Jim Davison a has been, his life has been rich and varied and he has squeezed every last drop out of it. Because of Jim's hard work and perseverance he has brought enjoyment and pleasure into many people's worlds.Seldom does somebody's life have so great an impact on so many others and I for one certainly look forward to hearing Jim's gravelly voice on the airwaves next weekend. It has been a pure pleasure to write this story for Pattaya Trader and chatting to Jim for the brief time I did left me wondering just how much more golden stories he had left to relay.