Veteran RTHK Talkabout presenter Leung Ka-wing goes off the air

'Talkabout' goes walkabout as stalwart RTHK presenter Leung Ka-wing finally steps down after 32 years as a leading voice in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 5:43am

In an RTHK radio studio, programme host Leung Ka-wing tried hard not to grind his teeth as the official he was interviewing put his feet on the table. The man, who Leung refrained from naming, was totally unco-operative.

When Leung asked him: "Can you talk about what your department does?", he replied: "I don't understand your question. Can you rephrase it?"

He reframed his question several times before the official finally responded: "I understand you now. But your question is too ridiculous for me to answer."

Leung recalled the incident as one of the most bizarre in his time at RTHK. After more than 32 years with the public broadcaster, he is stepping down. His final programme aired November 16.

He is most famous as the host of morning phone-in show Talkabout, but the 59-year-old has a long history with current affairs programmes and was also acting head of Chinese programme service in the radio division.

His daily life was highly regular: leaving home at 5.30am, reading editorials an hour later, discussing programme content with colleagues at 7.30pm, then a 15-minute tea time during which he brainstormed about opening remarks before the show started. "Even if the sky falls, I need the milk tea," he jokes.

While Leung cultivated a clockwork schedule in his personal life, in the studio he had to contend with a revolving door of guests - some of whom reacted bizarrely to his questions.

In the early 1980s, Leung invited Tsang Tak-sing - at that time the chief editor of Ta Kung Pao newspaper and now secretary for home affairs - on to a programme. He started off by bringing up family matters, as in any other daily conversation. Tsang, however, was taken aback.

"Tsang looked at me and said: 'Did the colonial government send you to fish for information?'

"He seemed serious and I told him he had injured my national pride."

Tsang apologised for his bluntness the next day.

Leung prides himself on never being star-struck. He interviewed Chris Patten just before the final governor returned to Britain at the handover. "Everyone was asking for his autograph but I just stood there. He looked at me as if I was the odd one."

But his attitude has since mellowed. When former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen left office, "I took a picture with him".

Leung worked as a teacher and newspaper reporter before joining the broadcasting industry as a traffic news announcer in 1980, so he's been talking and listening for most of his professional life.

"Talking is an art, and I pay a lot of attention to how people present themselves," he says. "When I was young, I went to Temple Street, stood there and watched people sell hair wax … I listen to people when I eat dim sum in a Chinese restaurant."

As to who gives the best quotes, Leung says it isn't officials or celebrities but the people eating in cha chaan tang (local style restaurants).

Over the years, many residents such as teachers and police officers regularly called his show, and some became friends.

Leung says such public involvement in RTHK programmes is one of the reasons the broadcaster carried out reforms last year. Long-running hosts Robert Chow Yung and Ng Chi-sum were told to leave, triggering suspicions the station wanted to silence government critics.

Leung says their departure was a part of changes aimed at giving the public more chance to voice their opinions. The station also introduced a different type of host, who stayed neutral while commentators expressed views.

"Some people doubted the arrangement could work, saying that would turn the host into a traffic co-ordinator. Others said that when it comes to fundamental principles, a programme host should not be afraid to speak his mind."

Leung says such fears are unfounded. "Democracy and equality, for example, are the big principles. But there is more than one way to reach the destination when we all are heading in that direction."

Although his relationship with former co-host Chow soured last year with Chow claiming he "will never work for RTHK again", Leung has good memories of their time together.

"To exaggerate it a bit, he and I live in two worlds and are complementary to each other. Chow has business experience and plays golf. I am more of a grass-roots person … when we talk to each other, it's like a ping pong going back and forth."

Leung is confident RTHK has a bright future. The station is set to have three of its own TV channels and five digital radio channels in a few years' time. The public will enjoy the additional choices, but producers will face a challenge, he says.


Leung Ka-wing

Age 59

Title Former acting head of Chinese programme service in RTHK's radio division, former host of radio phone-in programme Talkabout

Status On pre-retirement leave since November

Education Hong Kong Baptist College physics diploma in 1975

Work A secondary school teacher after graduation. Joined RTHK as traffic news announcer in 1980