Karunaratne Abeysekera of Radio Ceylon:
The legacy still lives on
When he entered the room, you could not help but notice him - his
hair groomed back with 'Brylcreem' (his hair always had that shiny wet
look), the thin moustache and sharp cheek bones, the immaculate smart
bush shirt - you were in the presence of Karunaratne Abeysekera, the
pioneer Sinhala broadcaster of Radio Ceylon.
Karunaratne Abeysekera or 'Karu' was born on June 3, 1930 in the
village of Ratmale near Matara. He was educated at Nalanda Maha
Vidyalaya in Colombo. The young Karu as a teenager displayed such
creativity and vibrant talent, that he was invited to join the popular
'Lama Pitiya' (the children's programme presented by 'Siri Aiya') over
the airwaves of Radio Ceylon at the age of 15 years.
This was the making of the teenage broadcaster. He grew in popularity
and listeners appreciated his wit, his sharp mind, his way with words -
he was truly a master of the Sinhala language. He joined the Panel of
Announcers of Radio Ceylon in 1950.
In 1958, he was sent to London to get himself trained with the
British Broadcasting Corporation at the age of 28. The 1950s and 1960s
was the golden era of Radio Ceylon - the oldest and finest radio station
in South Asia. Radio Ceylon was the 'King of the Airwaves' and
Karunaratne Abeysekera enjoyed iconic status as an announcer and
presenter of radio programmes.
Millions turned into Radio Ceylon. Karu was also heard on many radio
jingles. He was the voice of Sinhala radio in the 1960s and 1970s from
the days of Radio Ceylon, the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation and
current Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).
But radio was not the only facet of the life of this multi-talented
man. He was lyricist, poet, dialogue writer, compere of hundreds of
events and he even wrote stories for children. Several children's books
have been published. Karunaratne Abeysekera wrote over 2,000 lyrics - a
national record for a Sri Lankan lyricist.
His compositions are still being covered by musicians in Sri Lanka
and they have been sung to audiences as far and wide as London, Los
Angeles, Melbourne - Mignonne Fernando and 'The Jetliners' sang 'Mangala
Mohotha' to international audiences - it is now one of the most
requested wedding songs in the island.
He won the prestigious Sarasaviya Awards for his lyrics on two
occasions for his stunning compositions.
Karunaratne Abeysekera has the distinction of creating history in the
world of radio by being the first ever Sinhala cricket commentator over
the airwaves of Radio Ceylon. He commentated on matches played by Ceylon
against visiting English, Indian and Australian sides from the 1950s -
1970s. He also commentated on the well-known school cricket matches like
the annual Royal-Thomian cricket match, the oldest unbroken cricket
match in South Asia.
Karunaratne Abeysekera had to devise cricket terminology to describe
cricketing actions of batsmen and bowlers - this was unchartered
territory in terms of Sinhala language - his words to describe various
aspects of cricket are used to this day, by present day Sinhala cricket
I have vivid memories of Karunaratne Abeysekera who was a frequent
visitor to our home when we lived in Maha Nuge Gardens in Colombo in the
1960s and 1970s. Karu and my father, Vernon Corea, were very close
friends - it was hugely productive broadcasting relationship and they
collaborated with each other on various projects - both broadcasters
were men of ideas and when met it was creative explosion.
"Vernon! I've got an idea," he would say, striding into our home in
that confident style of his. They would stay together - late into night,
thrashing out their ideas - the end product would be a radio programme,
a script, a radio jingle or a show in English and in Sinhala.
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation has named Studio 5 to remember
the giant of Sinhala broadcasting.
Sri Lanka lost a broadcasting genius when Karunaratne Abeysekera died
in 1983 but his legacy, his lyrics, his words live on.