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By Howard Campbell

Observer senior writer—-


 Gil and Pat Bailey —-


WHEN Gil Bailey started his career as a disc jockey in 1970, the American airwaves were still virgin territory for reggae music. As the Jamaican population in Brooklyn and The Bronx grew, there was a need for a familiar voice on radio.

Known as the Godfather, Bailey launched his Gil Bailey Show 48 years ago. Later, he and his wife Pat co-hosted The Gil and Pat Bailey Show on Caribbean radio stations in the Big Apple, servicing the tri-state area (which also includes New Jersey and Connecticut) with programs that showcased a mix of reggae, calypso, soca and gospel music.

Pat, whom he married in 1969, died in December 2016 at age 77. Bailey has been off the air since, but recalled his trailblazing days on New York radio stations like WHBI WNWK and WPAT, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“Back then, you could count on one hand how many of us were on radio. I was able to corner and capture the Caribbean audience since folks from back home was dying to hear anything ‘yaad’ talk and ‘yaad’ music,” he said.

Things have changed significantly.

Gil Bailey

Gil Bailey

“You could say and get away with far more then than now. The type of music has also gone [from] where the more mature audience long for the oldies but goodies I am known for to what I would say is young people music,” Bailey explained. “The Internet has also taken a slice of what radio used to be. People would rather listen radio than go Internet, now they may go Internet; over the radio.”

Jamaicans moving to the United Kingdom in the 1960s had a much easier time in terms of hearing their music. Millie Small, Desmond Dekker and Prince Buster had national hit songs there which made ska and rocksteady palatable to some radio programmers on stations like the BBC.

Bailey notes that was far from the case in the Big Apple.

“It really was much tougher in the 1970s in New York since more Caribbean people migrated to the UK and Europe. The difficulty was, our music was seen as competition to R&B, etc; but the hippies, ganja-smoking crowd embraced Bob Marley and reggae as great protest music, so reggae got bigger and better,” he said.

Steady migration of West Indians to New Jersey and Connecticut during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s resulted in an emergence of Caribbean radio stations in those states. New York City remained the hub, and Bailey and Ken Williams were the big names on reggae radio.

Freddie McGregor, Gil Bailey, Bobby Clarke & Lou Grant 2017 Christmas Party

Freddie McGregor, Gil Bailey, Bobby Clarke & Lou Grant 2017 Christmas Party

However, the playlists were limited.

“It was never difficult to get radio bosses to play Bob Marley; Burning Spear and Peter Tosh had less play,” said Bailey.

He believes a major turning point for Caribbean music in the region came in the 1980’s. Thousands of Caribbean people flowed into New York City’s boroughs, leading to an explosion of clubs, record stores and gradual acceptance by Americans of their culture.

It was a different scene when Gil Bailey migrated there in 1966 from his native St Thomas. There was little Jamaican or West Indian presence in New York City, and when he debuted on WHBI as an inexperienced announcer, even his compatriots made fun of his accent.

Bailey lived to see reggae/dancehall influence the birth of hip hop in the early 1980’s, and get played on mainstream stations in major urban markets such as the East and West coasts.

He relishes the thought of a comeback. But if he never returns to radio, he acknowledges his good fortune.

“The highs of my career was someone like me with no college education masterfully being on radio for more than 45 years and providing radio excellence so that many with college education could follow, and I was able to make a comfortable living for my wife and family.”

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