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'Choice FM's demise will be reggae music's revival'

REGGAE LIVES: Former Choice FM reggae presenter Daddy Ernie

CHOICE IS now Capital XTRA, echoing the BBC’s move several years ago to turn Radio 1 black with a Radio 1Xtra but at what price?

Reggae, is still reggae and will always be here whether we hear it on ‘black’ radio stations or not.

About three years ago, the multi-millionaire boss of Capital Radio, Ashley Tabor, invited me to his HQ in Leicester Square on a very delicate matter. He was thinking of re-branding Choice FM and he wanted to know what I thought the reaction would be from the listeners.

He was thinking of calling it Galaxy to go with the corporate branding that he was planning for his line of specialist stations. By coralling all the stations under one brand name, he could offer advertisers truly national advertising to compete with the BBC’s national reach. It made sense from a business perspective - kerching!

Being the "Voice of Black Britain", I saw nothing wrong with a little bump and grind of the name. It wasn’t like Choice was engraved in stone and was at the heart of every black Briton’s thinking. There are some things we will riot for and throw stones for, but the name of a radio station isn’t one of them.

I told Ashley I didn’t think much of the name Galaxy but at the end of the day Choice’s listeners would not judge a book by its cover and eventually they would get used to any name - call it Tom, Dick and Harry if you want, as long as they could still rely on it to deliver the music and the banter that they tuned in for.

Ashley promised me at the time that there were no plans to meddle with the output, just the name. Oh well, no biggie then, I concluded and left the place having eaten my full and quenched my thirst of his hospitality.

In the taxi back to my gaff, I couldn’t help but wonder if reggae/dancehall/Jamaican music would feature in this brave new world. Within a few months, I got my answer. Apparently Daddy Ernie, who has been spinning reggae tunes on the station since day dot back in 1990 when Neil Kenlock and Patrick Berry launched the station in Brixton, was having his reggae programme scrapped.

Well, you can imagine the response to that. Ardent reggae lovers from all over the capital and those far and beyond who listened to Daddy Ernie online and by other means inundated Ashley Tabor with their disapproval. Well, to give Ash his dues, he relented and said that they weren’t getting rid of Daddy Ernie but that his programme would be re-assigned, which is radio speak for truncated and even more marginalised at some god-forsaken hour when only reggae listeners would be prepared to listen to it.

Daddy Ernie had earned a reprieve like his namesake who drove the fastest milk cart in the West. But he must have known that the writing was on the wall.

It’s a sign of the times. Reggae ain’t what it used to be. It hasn’t got the clout that it used to have. And the reggae audience doesn’t have the punch to pull a protest to save a reggae deejay on the radio anymore.

Go back 30 years when reggae was top ranking and you’ll see how the reggae audience marched on the BBC to ensure that there was reggae music on the radio. Nicky Thomas’ fantastic song of the time, BBC, tells the story of that march.

Rita Marley’s sister, the Ranking Miss P, was the main beneficiary of that protest and was given a late night reggae programme on the premier music station in the country, BBC Radio 1. She held that post down for about 10 years before they got rid of her and she was relegated to BBC London.

From the moment Ranking Miss P lost that slot on Radio 1 reggae people everywhere knew that the game was nearly up. The job of getting reggae into the mainstream charts would be doubly hard and reggae would be once again ghettorised as it was for most of the 1960s and 70s. What’s more, there was no reggae king for the commercial radio stations to identify with, not unless it was the reggae "kings" of UB40 (don’t make me laugh).

But the reggae audience is tenacious. Not just the black audience. Let’s face it, it is pure white people who are keeping roots and culture reggae alive and well throughout Europe (okay, many of them are spliff heads who think that reggae is an opportunity to spark up in public, but as long as it keeps the dollars running back-a-yard you just have to ‘llow it).

Here in the UK it is black and white people who are keeping lovers’ rock alive. Despite the lack of airplay reggae is far from dead. It is alive and kicking and is still the heartbeat of the community both young and old.

So I can’t understand what Daddy Ernie is so dejected about in losing his lucrative slot on the radio.

Reggae can go back to when it was most thriving - the days of the sound system and the pirate stations, the days when the music had a real meaning to the community and a lot of these bashment geezers can stop trying to play hip hop reggae to a mainstream audience and get back to the roots - where the music belongs.

Viva reggae!

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