A True Trendsetter
By Priyangwada Perera
I still remember listening to him on Sirasa FM, especially during school holidays as he conducted the Morning Show, Sooriya Sirasa. As a child, this new version of FM experience had a striking difference. While electronic media experts went on critiquing, Sirasa FM won listeners. They never offered money for listening to them. We just automatically tuned in. There was one unmistakable voice – Kingsly Rathnayaka.
Till 10 in the morning, we had the radio blasting. Making his unique entrance in 1994 as a trend-setter, a game-changer, and a challenge to the existing versions of Lankan radio announcers, Kingsly was Sri Lanka’s new sensation. Some wanted to say he was just a chatty-boy with an endless flow of words. But I for one, the kid who thought no end of the ‘voice’ knew he was more than chatty. It was from Kingsly that I understood spontaneity and wit. His use of words, his flow, and his sense of humour deeply enriched his content.
It was not like a pelting of stones on a tin sheet. But only the lovers of this new man had the humility to tune in and hence, the luck to discover. Unknown to many of us, his story goes way back. Kingsly joined Sirasa FM after his Advanced Levels and has flourished for 28 years. That was exactly why his decision to leave Sirasa FM and Sirasa TV came as quite a shock. There were many who could not digest it. They suspected, accused, and even insulted. But how fair is that? Just because we grow to admire someone in a particular field by which right can we decide his future? For Kingsly, the journey has not been what it appears to the outsider. Joining as an aspiring young man brimming with talent, how he capitalised upon his talent is evidence of where he stands today.
He gratefully remembered Nimal Lakshapathiarachchi who gave him the opportunity and all the freedom. But Kingsly is now ready and steady on a different path. “I am not an apolitical man. I never was. But I never mixed my politics with my profession as a media personality. Both stayed in their two watertight compartments in their purest forms. I was never used as a pawn in the political game. I have never had misunderstandings with a politician or with the Chairman. I was nothing but a professional,” Kingsly told us. From Sooriya Sirasa to becoming one of the Directors at MTV/MBC to The Voice, where he was catering to the international standards adhered in 180 countries, Kingsly was very versatile.
On the other hand, conducting the Poya Day programme for 28 years, Kingsly is well aware of the Buddhist teaching of cause and end which leads to nothing but suffering. Hence, when it is the bitter taste of discontentment that he felt, he knew it was time to move on. “You are in a mess when you feel your full potential was not made use of and at the same time, when you do not have a moment’s peace.” Then again, Kingsly is certain that destiny has its own little callings. When he accepted the role as the President’s Spokesperson, he had his eyes focused.
“Even as a pioneering FM radio personality, I was a part of social media. Investigative journalism trends with the programmes like Thiththa Eththa which I presented became trends. Unknown to most, I even had my small-scale YouTube channel way before it became a trend here. My entrance to the digital world started with that,” Kingsly said. He is extra conscious of the content. Kingsly pointed out how the memes are extremely popular. “They are good in quality, anonymous, and often with a refined taste of rhetoric. Cool and trendy spurring interactive communication.
However, they are artificially created, effortlessly pushed down your throat through an algorithm. Decision makers believe this to be the truth.” Kingsly said that at present, our consent is pick-pocketed. “What do a majority of YouTubers give us? Does social media reflect the reality of the majority? If it does, we have a question of belonging.” Kingsly questioned whether we are becoming ‘half animal, carnivorous puppets in a scripted drama’. Kingsly’s digital platform will be to change this psychography not waiting for the academics to initiate and broaden the dialogue.
“We are not fish in a tank, waiting to be killed. Are we even taught to accept defeat graciously? While those with the eye and taste leave, the spaces get filled with garbage. Be it aesthetics, media, journalism, we are less knowledgedriven, less dedicated. I am all set to increase the quality of life in strengthening these neglected aspects of life.” Kingsly has travelled around the country and been to many countries to recognise what we have sadly excluded of culture. Fifteen years before the YouTubers took stage, he started off what was called Video Diaries.
“Coming back after my Danida Fellowship in Denmark, I bought a camera from the Dubai airport from which I could directly upload videos to YouTube. That was my start. I actually started my fan base at that point. Despite tons of views, amidst my work it was stagnant. My re-entry to the digital medium will expose my conscience,” he said. A popular radio and television personality, a lyricist of BnS songs which went global, also a Religious Programme Director at MBC, now being the President’s Spokesperson is still difficult to be fathomed.
“It must have been my professionalism that got me the chance. There are no other deals. I won’t be presenting again. But the best is to not put us up or down in racks labelled as ‘announcer’, ‘media spokesperson’ and so on. Kingsly of Sirasa might be closer to heart but I believe if you change the society and a culture, the politics will follow. This journey of mine is towards that vision and mission,” he emphasised. Perhaps Andrew Sullivan said it the best. “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”