Lance Whittaker's four-decade long broadcasting career defined by excellence

By January 27, 2022

When you’ve been in broadcasting as long as Lance Whittaker has, nothing much comes as a surprise. Over a career that has spanned more than three decades, the Sportsmax Zone anchor has pretty much been there and done that.

Well, that was until last week, Friday, January 21, when he was presented with the prestigious RJRGleaner Foundation’s Chairman’s Award for 35 years of excellence in broadcasting at the local, regional and international levels.

“Complete shock! Was not expecting this at all,” remarked the unassuming but highly respected broadcaster, who for the last 12 years has been a Vice-President/Executive Producer at SportsMax Ltd, the Caribbean’s first all-sports cable channel.

“Remember, no media practitioner had ever won this award before so I was not even considering that I was a candidate. More than a week later, after being notified, I am still actually trying to assess how I feel. Immense pride, for sure, and really honoured that the RJRGleaner Sports Foundation has considered my body of work worthy. It means a lot to me and I feel the decades of hard work is appreciated.”

Those decades of hard work began back in June 1984 at Radio Jamaica where Whittaker spent the first 11 years of his superlative career. He started out reading the mid-day sports reports and subsequently hosted Sports Call on Wednesday nights.

Lance eventually rose through the ranks to be Assistant Programme Director – Sports. He had also begun to establish himself as a world-class commentator covering Pan Am Games in 1987 and 1991, the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

By 1995, he was ready to move on to greater challenges.

“I took a job offer at the Caribbean News Agency in (CANA) in March 1995 as CANA Sports Coordinator in Barbados where I established a daily radio sportscast and supervised the sports output in the CANA Wire Service which was the regional affiliate of Reuters International News Agency, transmitting hundreds of Caribbean sports stories monthly, covering the entire region – from Bermuda in the north through to Guyana in the south,” he said with pride.

“Our radio coverage output during this period also included the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and several CARIFTA Games. CANA also established CricketPlus, CANA’s high-quality radio coverage of international cricket led by esteemed commentators Fazeer Mohammed, Andrew Mason, Simon Crosskill and Reds Pereira.”

CANA and the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) eventually merged in 2000 to become the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) for which Whittaker was Director of Sports until his resignation in March 2010.

“At CMC, I continued to lead our wire service output and television was added to my portfolio, as we established a daily television news,” he recalled.

“I presented our 15-minute sports news Monday to Friday evenings after our team sourced stories from our partners throughout the day. During that period, I also added three more Olympics to my log – Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.”

At SportsMax, he was mandated to improve the company’s standing as a regional and international television sports broadcaster and in July 2011, a SportsMax dream was realized, the first ever daily sports talk show in Caribbean television.

“I was lead presenter in the early years of SportsMax Zone and I am still on the show daily. We have tried to fashion the show – through the news stories and discussion topics – to ensure engaging topics for the viewers,” he said.

“Major coverage events for me so far at SportsMax include the 2012 London Olympics and Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In recent years, I have also been a part of increased live coverage of events on SportsMax, including local premier league, school sports and various international events.”

His body of work speaks for itself and is the result of years of hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence, the hallmarks of Whittaker’s sterling career.

“I am not sure if there is a secret to maintaining a high standard for a long time. It boils down to really hard work and dedication,” he said.

“Punctuality, preparedness and being thorough have always been watchwords for me in this job and in the media, these are critical to success. Also, my school motto at Wolmer’s ‘Age Quod Agis’ is, 'Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.

“I love what I do. I have been playing sports competitively and loving sports from before my teenage years and a lot of what I do on the job hardly feels like work. I fell in love with radio as a teenager and though I did not realize it then, it clearly triggered my passion for a career in broadcast media.”

Of course, with so many events covered, it might be surprising to hear that there isn’t any one thing that comes first to mind as most memorable; perhaps because there have been so many.

“There are so many memorable moments and some may find it surprising that my first interactions with broadcasters, who I found massively inspirational, would be very high on that list,” he said.

“I cannot explain in words how moved and star-struck I felt the first time I met Chris Armond, whose horse racing commentaries I would have studied and impersonated as a teenager at Wolmer’s, much to my mother’s consternation because she was sure I took horse racing commentary more seriously than my school work!

“Also, the first time I interviewed the great Tony Cozier live in the RJR studio on Sports Call. Another ‘star-struck’ moment. I was completely in awe of this cricket commentator, revered globally and to me the world’s best, and I swear, I was so nervous I struggled to conduct a proper interview.

“Those aside, I would list getting a signed picture and letter from sprint great Merlene Ottey thanking me for what she thought was my “classic” commentary of her 1993 IAAF World Championship 200-metre gold medal run in Stuttgart, her first global title after 13 years of trying; Usain Bolt’s stunning 9.69 world record 100-metre win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and my commentary as he approached the finish, arms outstretched and celebrating, that “Usain Bolt makes it look easy” was not what I wanted to say, I stayed focused on my verbal delivery but trust me, the words in my mind were not fit for airplay! Not sure what would rank as a crowning moment but this Chairman’s Award certainly hit a spot. Never expected this at all.”

So what does one do for an encore after 35 years of excellence?

“Not much of a planner, so I am not sure,” he said.

“I will be 60 years old in September and taking things day by day. Getting some pressure/encouragement from some quarters to write a book on my adventures in almost 38 years of broadcasting and I am still trying to wrap my brain around that.”

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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