Sasha Martinengo’s voice is a familiar one. Whether you’re a Formula 1 petrolhead or been listening to radio for most of your life. Somewhere, somehow, you would have heard his voice, energetic but soothing at the same time. Sasha is a showbusiness legend.
The elephant in the room, Martinengo’s on-air faux pas, continues to haunt him. He lost everything when he referred to EFF leader Julius Malema as a primate. And while he said that it was meant in an irreverent manner at the time, the aftermath nearly destroyed his life. It left him unemployed and branded as a racist, a label he never imagined would be tagged onto him.
Being shunned by the industry that gave him his wings really hurt him. It also ushered in some really tough times. But his passion for what he does is unwavering.
Martinengo’s love affair with music started at a young age. It led him to becoming a deejay for a mobile disco company while studying and, he said: “Dodging military service for as long as I could.” It was still during the bad old days when young South African men were conscripted to serve in the military for two years.
Eventually he completed a year in the army when the government reduced time to serve. Getting a job became his mission.
He said: “A friend of mine was working at the EMI record company. I phoned her and I said, ‘Listen, do you know if there’s anything available? And I got into the record business working for a company called Steel Street Records, which is part of the EMI group. It was dealing with the local bands and that’s how I started getting into music and the music industry. And from there, of course, it evolved into visiting radio stations.’”
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During his days as a record company representative, he went around to various radio stations and introduced presenters and management to new music releases. But the exposure to radio got him thinking.
“I just sat there and thought about my mobile deejaying stuff and entertaining crowds, and I thought radio would be a great opportunity. I would love to become a radio deejay.”
He eventually met radio legend Anthony Duke, who passed away earlier this year. Duke was station manager at 5FM at the time. It was Duke who gave Martinengo his first air time. He remembered: “I made demo tapes and I listened to more and more radio all over the world. One day they said, ‘okay, we’re going to give you a shot’.”
He spent 45 minutes with radio legend Brian Oxley who presented the afternoon drive show at the time. That was the sum total of his initial training on the deejay desk.
Martinengo said: “That was a Friday afternoon and the following Sunday morning between 2am until 6am I did my first ever radio show, and that was the beginning of my career.” It was 1993.
His radio career quickly accelerated, and Martinengo was moved from the redeye shift to Sunday mornings with Michelle Constant. And after that, he co-hosted one of 5FM’s most popular shows of all time, the World Chart Show with Ursula Stapelfeldt.
IanF, another 5FM institution, joined the station roughly at the same time. And it was Duke’s idea to pair the two presenters and forge a brand new midday show.
Martinengo said: “We didn’t know one another at all when we stepped into the studio, but we just gelled. There were no egos, no competing, we just had a fantastic time on the show.”
It became a massive hit on radio and transformed worktime radio forever.
Martinengo’s 17 years hosting Formula 1 on SuperSport was a dream come true, as well. He has an absolute passion for the sport. He said: “Formula One was something that I grew up with. I went to my first Formula One race when I was seven years old with my dad, and I just fell in love with it and I fell in love with Ferrari.”
He added that Ferrari was a natural choice: “I come from an Italian family. Some people go to university, I made Formula One my degree, and I’m still learning.”
And while he has had a few challenges shaking off the burden of his run in with Malema and the EFF, Martinengo is readying himself for a career restart. And South African audiences will more than likely forgive, forget and welcome the broadcasting legend back on air.