Career Path

Freedom of the airwaves for familiar radio voice

by Charles Mak

Luke Tsang, head of programme development, Radio Television Hong Kong
Photo: Johnson Poon

Since1977 when he got his first job in broadcasting, Luke Tsang has become one of the best-known voices and faces in Hong Kong. Appearing regularly over the years on both radio and TV, he has won awards and enjoyed consistent popularity, which he attributes to two essential factors.

"In this business, you need talent and a genuine interest in what's happening," he says. "Without that, you won't go very far."

After graduating in Hawaii with a degree in speech, Mr Tsang was hired by RTHK radio producer Ng Shek-fai and subsequently "spotted" by TV programme controller Cheung Man-yee. "Both have acted as mentors by offering me the freedom to shift between the two media and huge opportunities for development," he says. Making the most of this support, he went on to become one of the most admired personalities in the industry, presenting and producing a number of Hong Kong's top radio programmes.

On air
As the so-called DJ culture faded away in the early 90s, infotainment took its place. Radio formats relied less on music and more on a new wave of presenters who were there to talk and could often use their own discretion to decide on subjects and how long to give callers or guests.

"There was definitely more room for creativity," says Mr Tsang. "I interviewed people who I felt were representative of my listeners and tried to give the audience what they wanted to hear. In this business, we have a certain influence because many thousands of people are listening to what we have to say." He adds that this means the role of a radio presenter also carries with it a very important social responsibility. This must be respected for the kind of power it confers and never abused by promoting negative values.

For Mr Tsang, this degree of freedom is the major difference between working in radio and TV, and what makes the former more interesting. "Radio is an individual space, whereas TV is all about teamwork — the script, costume design, makeup, lighting and so on," he says. "As a radio presenter, everything depends on your voice; your 'material' is mostly what you think up at the time. It's not a matter of having bigger production budgets or wearing more expensive costumes."

Now, as the head of RTHK's programme development, Mr Tsang believes he bears his fair share of management responsibilities. However, because he finds this type of work less satisfying, he has refused offers of further promotion since 1992. "I'd rather keep my hands free for things other than administration, but that doesn't mean I want to stop learning or contributing to society," he explains.

Breaking new ground
One of his early assignments was the long-standing City Forum, which created a local speakers' corner and made broadcasting history. "Cheung Man-yee approached me with the concept, when nobody thought a live public forum could become a TV programme. She had faith in me and I became the producer," Mr Tsang recalls.

His weekly radio talk show An Hour More, which ran from 1988 to 2000, also created a stir and represented another career high. For that particular programme, he invited all Hong Kong's movers and shakers, including Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang and Henry Tang, to take part in live studio interviews. "There must have been at least 700 guests," Mr Tsang says. "If you have built a reputation, people will want to be interviewed by you."

The programme was a big success, but eventually ran its course. "It took too much energy and was extremely intensive," he explains, adding that people who work in the media must be like a sponge. "Every day you squeeze yourself dry and produce all you can. Then you quickly have to absorb new information and ideas to have something original to say the following day."

Future plans
Holding himself to a consistently high standard of performance has inevitably created strain and even led to a period of mood disorders a few years ago. "I had to retire to bed for months and ever since then I've turned down quite an amount of work," Mr Tsang says.

He learned, though, that an estimated 400,000 people in Hong Kong are suffering similar disorders with differing degrees of severity and, therefore, decided to become a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Mood Disorders Centre. "I put myself under a lot of pressure by undertaking too many nerve-wracking projects and that caused problems with the endorphins produced by my metabolism," he says. "However, these medical episodes have helped me realise that good health is the most important thing in life and for my career."

A typical working day still starts around 6am, and Mr Tsang's passion for the job often makes him forget the long hours. "Work is my major interest in life; it doesn't matter where I am because I'm thinking about work all the time anyway."

Having now turned 53, he has plans to retire in a couple of years, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will slow down. "I'll try to do some new things and will keep contributing to society by helping young people," he says. "I pray every day and thank God for granting me another day to live. As long as that happens, I'll continue to be useful."


Taken from Career Times 01 September 2006, p. B20
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