25 Oct Radio Man ‘a rare breed’
AFTER some 40,000 interviews, hundreds of radio shows and dozens of emergency flood reports, veteran Queensland broadcaster and special event interviewer John Stokes has finally hung up his headphones.
The talented son of a radio and television presenter, John died after a long battle with cancer. He was 55.
A standout presenter on Queensland airwaves during the past three decades, John pioneered FM music radio broadcasting on the Gold and Sunshine coasts, starting in the late ’80s.
A larger than life character, John could be said to have wrung more from his life than most people experience in several lifetimes. He delighted in riding waves, both offshore and in the recording studio where he often railed against ignorance and injustice.
John didn’t hold back, especially when the truth was involved.
“He sometimes got people offside because he loved to stir the pot,” Coast FM content director Trevor Jackson said. “But he did it because he cared. John was a passionate man whose exuberance was infectious. He was an excellent broadcaster and an even better human being. He was a rare breed.”
After starting out with a part-time gig at community station 4CRB FM, John applied to the ABC and was installed as the network’s first Gold Coast employee in 1984. He launched the Coast FM stereo broadcast service in February 1989, initially in tandem with this writer, presenter Ritchie Yorke, co-host-ing the morning program for its first month on air.
For the privilege, he dubbed me the “veteran cosmic rocker”, a term in which I will admit to having revelled!
As a broadcaster, John had a genuine interest in each individual with whom he came in contact. Everyone who met him or listened to him on the radio liked to think of John, or Stokesy, as their own special mate. He invoked that sort of regard in people, which is what made him such a formidable broadcaster.
His trademark Hawaiian shirts made him easy to spot at a distance.
Survived by Jen, his barefoot bride of 19 years, and their delightful 14-year-old daughter Jasmine, his mother Jan and brother Bruce, John was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the mid 1990s.
He really began to struggle with the disease five years ago, enduring with grace and humour several bouts of treatment from which he would always bounce back before entering another round of the battle. Woodford Festival director Bill Hauritz said John, who moved to the Sunshine Coast in 1993 to open the ABC’s first studio there, had been a passionate supporter of local musicians and composers.
He also started an enduring relationship between the ABC and the long-running festival from which he broadcast on many occasions – first at Maleny and then, after the festival’s relocation, at Woodford.
“John was very big on relationships,” Hauritz said. “You could not find anyone who had anything negative to say about him. He was always positive. He turned the light on everywhere he went.”
Aside from painting, John’s later infatuation with the ukulele was evidenced in four public performances, principally at Pomona’s Majestic Theatre. It was a venue he had campaigned to have restored as a community asset.
In 2009 he walked 30km, from Kenilworth to Kandanga backwards to raise money for his favourite charity, Club Chemo at Noosa Hospital, which funds cancer drugs for patients who can’t afford them.
The walk stemmed from John’s rash vow to ABC colleagues that he would walk the distance backwards if then federal environment minister Peter Garrett rejected the Queensland Government’s bid to build the Traveston Crossing Dam near Gympie. Another Stokes enthusiast was Australian paralympic swimmer and paratriathlon competitor, Marayke Jonkers, who had become a paraplegic as a baby after a car accident.
They undertook many interviews together and John was responsible for shaming a Sunshine Coast primary school into providing Ms Jonkers with wheelchair facilities.
“He was a brilliant journalist, an amazingly funny guy and not scared to go after the tough stories,” the Paralympian said. Also among his good many friends was Paul Anderson, who was one of the first people John met when he moved to the Sunshine Coast in the early 1990s.
Anderson was convinced John’s love for Polynesian culture had begun when his father, Bruce Stokes, worked as a broadcaster in New Zealand and the Cook Islands. “Forever after that he had that island surfing vibe,” Anderson said. “As a surfer, John could certainly hold his own on a knee-board, whether it was at big wave breaks like Nusa Dua or around Queensland’s points.
“John was a very good barrel rider and understood reef surfing really well.” John took a 14-month break in January 2011 to fight off a second bout of cancer before retiring finally in June 2013.
He was farewelled from the job first by hundreds of listeners and later at a packed Alex Surf Club function by mates, as well as political and community leaders.
ABC Queensland Local radio manager Jen Brennan noted: “He was a charismatic larrikin who touched all those who knew him. The surfers, the artists, the designers, the politicians, the doctors, the greenies, the developers etc and his legion of loyal listeners. “He was and will forever be the bedrock of the ABC on the Sunshine Coast.”
ABC journalist Bruce Atkinson said the news of John’s death had been full of emotion for his former colleagues. “He has suffered a lot for a long time, so it is good that he is now at rest,” Atkinson said. John often talked of his father Bruce’s career advice. “His belief was: If in doubt, leave it out.”
John departed on his own terms, despite the nature of his journey. “I never had an editorial breach,” he was pleased to report a few days before his death.“I never appeared on Media Watch. It was a badge of honour. I suppose.
“All I can say is thanks for all the waves – there’s more to be surfed yet.”