Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Reggae loses platform with closure of WBAI

Published:Saturday | October 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMAnthony Turner/Gleaner Writer

New York:

WBAI, a listener-supported radio station and a member of the Pacifica chain of radio stations, which provides original programming to listeners in the Metropolitan New York City region and worldwide, was abruptly shut down Monday morning. The managers cited financial woes.

“Due to ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses at WBAI, local station operations are being discontinued as of October 7, 2019,” said the memo to staffers.

Among the programmes affected is Labbrish, which was hosted by Jamaica-born broadcaster Habte Selassie, who celebrated 40 years on the station in January.

“WBAI has lost its local voice. WBAI was a radical voice. It was the first to take an anti-war stand against the Vietnam war. WBAI pioneered listener-sponsored, non-commercial radio in the US. It was the first to go to listeners for support to raise funds to sustain the station,” Selassie informed.

Important voice

WBAI has been an important voice for African Americans and Jamaican/Caribbean nationals living in New York City. The station first hit the airwaves in 1960, championing leftist causes, from the gay rights movement to anti-war protests during America’s involvement in Vietnam. Habte started Labbrish on the platform on January 7, 1979. The music/talk format allowed him to play music with social, political, and artistic content (mainly Jamaican) but he also featured artistes like Fela Kuti and Jimi Hendrix.

Selassie broadcast on his programme in real time with live concerts featuring artistes like Toots and the Maytals, the Gladiators, the original Black Uhuru (Puma, Rose and Duckie), and Steel Pulse. Black Uhuru and Steel Pulse were actually carried live by satellite nationally, so stations which wanted to carry the broadcasts could.

Over the years, Selassie has interviewed representatives of the ANC during the volatile apartheid era. He also interviewed current Jamaican PM Andrew Holness, when he was education minister during the Dudus crisis.

Mutabaruka, Bunny Rugs, Toots, Tanya Stephens, Steel Pulse, Fela Kuti, Olatunji, and Peter Tosh were among the popular music stars he interviewed. He did special programmes celebrating and honouring Bob Marley, and also made the Labbrish time slot available to others to produce their own content. Among them were The Midnight Ravers, who eventually got their own programme, and Reggae Round Table with Winston ‘Stan’ Smith, which discussed the current state of reggae and also gave some historical background to the music.

Broadcaster Dennis Kabatto, started at WBAI in 1994.

He first worked in the news department and he engineered the boards and hosted/co-hosted various programmes on the platform. Although born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa, Kabatto has been a big supporter of reggae, soca and other music genres from the Caribbean. He has interviewed numerous Caribbean politicians and reggae acts, including Stephen Marley, Maxi Priest, Tarrus Riley, Freddie McGregor, Culture, and the Mighty Diamonds.

Another Caribbean/Jamaican programme aired on the WBAI platform was the Connections which was hosted by Jamaican lawyer Ian Forrest. Forrest started at WBAI in 2002 and did Caribbean Round Up as a feature on the morning drive time programme Wake Up Call. He got his own programme, Connections, a few years later. He continued to produce his weekly programme, even when he left New York to attend law school at The University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He started as a producer for Labbrish in February of 2005 and still does it remotely.

“Due to ongoing and continued projections of further financial losses at WBAI, local station operations are being discontinued as of October 7, 2019,” said the memo to staffers.

Among the programmes affected is Labbrish, which was hosted by Jamaica-born broadcaster, Habte Selassie, who celebrated 40 years on the station in January.

“WBAI has lost its local voice. WBAI was a radical voice. It was the first to take an anti war stand against the Vietnam war. WBAI pioneered listener sponsored, non commercial radio in the US. It was the first to go to listeners for support to raise funds to sustain the station,” Selassie informed.

WBAI has been an important voice for African Americans and Jamaican/Caribbean nationals living in New York city. The station first hit the airwaves in 1960, championing leftist causes, from the gay rights movement to anti-war protests during America’s involvement in Vietnam. Habte started Labbrish on the platform on January 7, 1979. The music/talk format allowed him to play music with social, political, and artistic content (mainly Jamaican) but he also featured artistes like Fela Kuti and Jimi Hendrix. Selassie broadcast on his programme in real time with live concerts featuring artistes like Toots and the Maytals, the Gladiators, the original Black Uhuru (Puma, Rose and Duckie), and Steel Pulse. Black Uhuru and Steel Pulse were actually carried live by satellite nationally, so stations who wanted to carry the broadcasts could.

Over the years, Selassie has interviewed representatives of the ANC during the volatile Apartheid era. He also interviewed current Jamaican PM, Andrew Holness, when he was Education Minister during the Dudus crisis.

Mutabaruka, Bunny Rugs, Toots, Tanya Stephens, Steel Pulse, Fela Kuti, Olatunji, and Peter Tosh were among the popular music stars he interviewed. He did special programmes celebrating and honoring Bob Marley and also made the Labbrish time slot available to others to produce their own content. Among them were The Midnight Ravers, who eventually got their own programme and Reggae Round Table with Winston ‘Stan’ Smith, which discussed the current state of reggae and also gave some historical background to the music.

Broadcaster, Dennis Kabatto, started at WBAI in 1994. He first worked in the news department and he engineered the boards and hosted/co-hosted various programmes on the platform. Although born in Freetown, Sierra Leon in West Africa, Kabatto has been a big supporter of reggae, soca and other music genres from the Caribbean. He has interviewed numerous Caribbean politicians and reggae acts including Stephen Marley, Maxi Priest, Tarrus Riley, Freddie McGregor, Culture and the Mighty Diamonds.

Another Caribbean/Jamaican programme aired on the WBAI platform was the Connections which was hosted by Jamaican lawyer Ian Forrest. Forrest started at WBAI in 2002 and did Caribbean Round Up as a feature on the morning drive time programme Wake Up Call. He got his own programme, Connections, a few years later. He continued to produce his weekly programme, even when he left New York to attend law school at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He started as a producer for Labbrish in February of 2005 and still does it remotely.