My grandfather has been fortunate enough to celebrate many birthdays in his life, but he says that none may ever be quite so memorable as his 87th. On Friday, June 6, Joachin Nii Awuley Lartey was honored by a committee of Ghanaian sports journalists and broadcasters at the Mascot Hotel in Dansoman, Accra for his “immense contribution to Broadcast journalism and public speaking in Ghana.” The committee named him “Nii Okasafo,” roughly translating to “the great talker.”
Joe Lartey’s name is synonymous in Ghana and throughout the African continent with superlative radio commentary on football. He began his career with Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in 1961 and remained on the air in Ghana and then Nigeria into the 90s.
"For me, he is the person who pushed me into journalism," said committee chairman Kwame Apau on why it was so important to honor Mr. Joe Lartey.
Apart from being a celebration of the life and work of Joe Lartey, the event also served as the launch of the “‘Over To You’ Sports Broadcast Excellence Awards” for best presentation, commentary and story in both Television and Radio. The award winners for 2014 will be announced in the coming months.
An aside. “Over to you,” is a tagline which often accompanies any mention of my grandfather’s name. The phrase made its way into the Ghanaian lexicon by way of his frequent broadcast partner Harry Thompson who would, at the appropriate time, pass along control of the broadcast with the line “over to you, Joe!”
About 50 guests gathered for the celebration and watched a video featuring several Ghanaian sports journalists and even some former Ghana Blackstar football players in effusive praise of the work of Joe Lartey as a Ghanaian broadcast legend. The video concluded with my grandfather’s hopes for what the inauguration of these awards might do.
To hear audio of “Over To You” Joe Lartey commentating a game, click here to view this story on my website.
"This award, the first of its kind is going to serve as an incentive, a motivation an encouragement. It will make the commentators realize that there is need for them to do better, and they will strive to do better."
Never more comfortable than in front of a microphone, Lartey assured that crowd that he would not be delivering a speech, but instead a talk. The latter more befitting of such a relaxing event.
"Most people think that I am a soccer commentator. What I am going to do on this occasion, is to fill in the gaps." Lartey detailed some of the other, less-known chapters of his life, which included serving in the British Navy at age 16, teaching secondary school and working as a trade-unionist. It was this union involvement which drew the ire of Col. I.K. Achempong’s military administration, and subsequently forced him to flee to Nigeria.
"I arrived in Nigeria at 2 A.M. and the next day I went to the broadcasting place. I was given a job and started broadcasting that same day," he told the crowd to applause. For his own protection, Lartey’s work in Nigeria took place under the pseudonym John Lawrence, one he retained for all business until Achempong’s fall later that year.
After his broadcast career ended, my grandfather continued on; launching a road-safety campaign, an NGO called “Attitudes Ghana,” and founding his own public speaking school. On the morning of his 87th birthday, just a few hours before this event, he was at the University of Ghana’s Legon campus to lecture for three hours. “I believe that when you are gifted by nature, you have to share that gift with people around you” he said.
As I have arrived here in Ghana for half the summer, ostensibly to practice the art and science of journalism, I can think of no better way to begin than by recording this proud moment for my family, as well as for the broadcast and sports journalism field in Ghana.