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Seani B pays tribute to pioneer DJ Tony Williams

TRAILBLAZER: Tony Williams’ Rockers FM show on BBC Radio London paved the way for a spotlight on black music

IT MAY come as no surprise to you that radio has been a big part of my life since I was a young child.

My parents always had it on in the background, as was the way across many households at that time. I absorbed what was coming through the airwaves without even realising that this was lining up to be part of my professional destiny.

My dad was always tuned into some form of talk radio – usually LBC – but come the weekend somehow my mum took control of the wireless.

ABUNDANCE
Radio broadcasters back then always seemed to have some form of recognisable tone to their voice which resonated with their listeners. As soon as ‘the voice’ hit your speakers, you knew what time it was.

The late, great Tony Williams had this in abundance.

A smooth, slick broadcaster, he was a staple fixture for many families in the London area because of his legendary BBC Radio London show.

I was always told to set the radio to his show. Scrolling through the dial and adjusting the aerial for good reception was the order of the day each and every Sunday afternoon. It was time for Rockers FM.

Of course, this was a different era. There wasn’t an abundance of black music on the air, and this was real "appointment to listen" radio.

Wherever you were, whatever you were doing, this was a cultural phenomenon that acted as a binding agent for the entire community.

It wasn’t just for black people – it was for people who just loved reggae in all of its forms, from dub to vocal and the emerging MC styles that came from Jamaica.

It was inter-generational, it was revolutionary, and it brought a brand new meaning to "rice and peas Sunday"!

From the studios in the centre of London, Tony managed to fly the flag on FM and medium wave, and was always an in- credible ambassador for the music he loved. (Side note – when listening back to these shows it is funny to hear him invite people to come to the studio to get their ‘Rockers FM’ car stickers ... Oh, how times have changed!)

But this went further than just the weekly shows he presented. His vision and passion for musical elevation went as far as bringing the British Reggae Industry Awards (which he was behind) to the heady heights of the Royal Albert Hall.

Even when his BBC days were behind him, the importance of broadcasting to him still shone through.

He was one of the first people who set up training facilities in his south London base for internet broadcasting.

He was also responsible for a series of 28-day legal radio services from his base in Balham.

One of our BrukOut team members had the honour of working with Tony during these ventures and he was one of many who have bene ted from the experience.

STRENGTHS
One of Tony’s main strengths was that he only supported one thing – good music.

Where the origins of the music were from was secondary, and the divisions of whether a track had a ‘UK’ or ‘Jamaican’ background were just not as important to him.

The blossoming and success of the UK Lovers Rock scene was in no small part down to the opportunities of on-air time and promotion given by Williams.

“When thinking about Tony Williams, I feel a deep sense of gratitude,” says Lovers Rock star Carroll Thompson.

“He championed UK Reggae on the BBC airwaves with enthusiasm and pride, exposing our homegrown Lovers Rock music across generations and cultural lines.”

His ethos was about bringing reggae to the forefront, and not have it lurking in the background.

He was a true pioneer in every sense of the word. Without his notable contribution there probably would have been no Choice FM, no BBC 1Xtra and the same can be said for numerous stations across the UK and beyond.

As a broadcaster I would like to thank him for paving the way for many generations that followed and worked with him.

A truly unsung hero, whose contributions will be felt and appreciated for many years to come. The reggae world is a sadder place without him. RIP.

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