Monday, March 24, 2014

This Station Rules The Nation

Two companies have historically controlled broadcast media in Jamaica.   The first began in 1949: Radio Jamaica Rediffusion Limited (RJR).  The company inherited ZQI (formerly NJ2PZ and VP5PZ) from John Grinan.  RJR was established as a privately owned  subsidiary of Rediffusion of London. As you'd expect, it reflected the still largely colonialist view of the UK. (Image from  there was also a shortwave station called VRR but we won't get into that.

Throughout the 1950s RJR aired primarily American and British popular music. In 1959 the radio dial diversified when Prime Minister Norman Manley enabled the creation of the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation (JBC.) This company was government owned and managed by a board of directors. While both stations played a little local music, they played it safe avoiding anything political. You can read more about that era in the book Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control  by Stephen A. King. More here.

The important take away here is that indigenous music was being kept out of the playlist and when it was aired.. limited to the most milquetoast of tracks and on the off hours. So Jamaicans made their own radio. They rigged up portable sound system on cars and drove around neighborhoods. This scene created Count Matchuk. Winston Cooper, better known as Count Matchuki was the first Jamaican DJ. He added spoken segments to recorded tracks in the style of jive-walking US DJs. He became familiar with that sound in New Orleans, probably from hearing any one of the three Poppa-Stoppas among others. More here. This same technique was emulated by U-Royamong others. More here and here.

There is some conjecture that this led to the development of rap music. [Side note: in 1970 U Roy (Ewart Beckford) released the single "This Station Rules the Nation."]  But even while that new genre rose to prominence radio in Jamaica remained constricted. JBC radio was founded in 1959 and until the 1990s that was it.  In that modern decade we saw the addition of Irie FM, Power 106 FM, and Love FM among others. There are now a total of 20 radio stations on an island only 4,000 square miles in size...smaller than Connecticut.