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JAMAICA 50: PIRATE RADIO HELPED TO BRING DIVERSITY TO BRITISH AIRWAVES!

Owen Grey (left) Graeme Goodall (center) Clement Dodd (right) at Federal Records.

 

By Howard Campbell——

In August, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on that country in REGGAE BRITANNIA, a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee.

FOR Jamaicans living in England during the early 1960s, it was impossible to get music from home on British radio. It would take a bold move by a renegade Irishman to help bring diversity to the airwaves.

O’RAHILLY… helped bring diversity to British airwaves (Photo: www.soulman1949.com)

 

Pirate radio took Britain by storm in 1964 through the establishment of Radio Caroline, the brainchild of Ronan O’Rahilly, an Irish businessman with strong ties to the British music industry.

Unable to get the music of his artists on British radio, O’Rahilly operated his station from the Mi Amigo, an old ship anchored in international waters off the English Channel.

Because of strict restrictions at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), foreigners were starved of so-called ethnic music. Though Millie Small had a massive hit with My Boy Lollipop in 1964, it was a novelty, and very little was heard on the BBC from the big ska acts in Jamaica, such as the Skatalites, Derrick Morgan or Prince Buster.

At the time, British Invasion groups like The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits got the lion’s share of airtime, leaving Jamaicans to depend on basement dances and record stores to hear the latest songs from home.

This was the situation Graeme Goodall found when he moved to London in 1965. The Australian sound engineer had helped Radio Jamaica set up its broadcast system in the 1950s, fine-tuned music producer Ken Khouri’s Kingston studio and was instrumental in setting up Island Records with Chris Blackwell.

Having witnessed the birth of ska, Goodall was amazed the music was not given a chance on British radio. To him, Radio Caroline “was like a knight in shining armour.”

“I cannot stress enough that it was virtually impossible to get Jamaican, or for that matter any non-English product played on the BBC,” Goodall recalled in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Goodall sought out O’Reilly and the two struck up a friendship, with Goodall offering Radio Caroline technical advice and service. The off-shore station played mainly popular music, but its playlist had no ska content even though England’s major cities was home to growing Jamaican populations.

The astute Goodall saw an opportunity to make a business move.

“I went to Rohann and suggested I buy airtime on Radio Caroline as part of a three-minute commercial,” Goodall explained. “Radio Caroline programmers grabbed the idea as they realized that there was a very large sub-culture who were buying ska music.”

Leading that sub-culture was the Skinheads, rowdy working-class white youth who took to the music of Morgan, Buster and other ska artistes.

Goodall says he paid Radio Caroline 250 pounds to play the best-selling ska songs (gathered from charts of top retail stores) 35 times a week.

The Radio Caroline move was so successful, Goodall remembers, that fans were rushing to record shops demanding ska music. It also influenced another pirate station, Radio London, to follow suit.

Administrators at Radio London came up with an adventurous scheme. They would earn royalties from the B side of a record while guaranteeing the artiste power-play for the A side.

Pirate radio helped push Jamaican music into the British mainstream by the late 1960s. Desmond Dekkers Israelites, The Liquidator by Harry J All Stars and Longshot Kick The Bucket by the Pioneers, were British hits before the 1970s dawned.

The number of Jamaican songs entering the national charts forced the conservative BBC to diversify its content. In the early 1970s, they launched one-hour programmes such as Reggae Time which expanded to two hours by 1978 when it welcomed a new host named David Rodigan.

David Rodigan

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