Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Running out of radio room?

Published:Saturday | December 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

A few days ago, I was in the parking lot of a supermarket, about to turn off the car's engine and the radio along with it, when a news item caused me to pause. It was about a radio frequency being assigned to the Maroon community which, although interesting enough, was not a reason to keep the engine going.

It was the number of radio stations that caused me to say "Damn" because, if I heard correctly, that radio station will make it 36 in the country. That is a whole lot of action on the FM dial (although sometimes it seems that only car radios come with physical dials these days). Even though a few have localised coverage areas, that is a lot of radio stations and required programming for a population that has not expanded that much beyond the good old days of a mere 20 or so years ago when JBC radio and RJR were tussling like the former USSR and USA.

Then I thought about how many of those radio stations I listen to. Top of the heap is RJR 94.5, the station I have been with most since the 1970s - and primarily with the same voice, that of Alan Magnus. I am coming from the days when jokes with the woefully dumb Ceebert provided the laugh in the morning; now, our children who are older than I was then, are listening to Alan and Paula as they get ready for high school in the mornings.

RJR goes up to the BBC news at 8 a.m. (another holdover from my youth), then it is over to IRIE FM for the Bob Marley song of the morning at about 8:12 a.m. I don't stay with Reggae Radio - it is over to 104.9 FM for the hilarious Johnny Daley and his SunCity morning show. (There is this segment where people text to say what they are having for breakfast. Sell off!).

SURFING THE AIRWAVES

The rest of my radio day varies. On Mondays and Wednesdays, it is retroactive music on SunCity and FAME FM, respectively (the latter is unbeatable). On other days, BBC radio is standard fare, KOOL with Crazy Chris, and Craig Ross is always somewhere in the mix. Mutabaruka's two shows on IRIE FM have to get a listen-in. There are occasional listens to Barry G on Mello FM, Bess FM is good for rub a dub, and Roots FM can be fascinating with its community pull. In the evenings going home, my wife is all for Beyond the Headlines (RJR is her station for news). However, for easy listening, it is Music 99 FM.

So, while I was thinking about 36 radio stations being a lot, a quick self scan showed that I listen to quite a few stations myself. And I am sure that there are persons who are much more loyal to particular radio stations, or listen to a much more diverse range of radio, than myself.

It all adds up to a hell of a lot of influence by the format. Remember, I coming from the pre-divestment era of the late 1980s and early 2000s that gave rise to IRIE FM, KLAS, and so on. It is amazing that even as the Internet and cable television have come to Jamaica, radio has not only survived, but continues to thrive and expand.

However, where does this fertile FM dial leave us? With a lot to be desired, I believe. Remember, as I have said a couple times before, I am coming from an era where there were only a couple of radio competitors, who had their news and shows with talk on the AM dial and the music heavy programming on the FM band. Now, with it all jumbled up, much of the talk leaves a lot to be desired.

To put it baldly, quite a few of the persons with jobs on radio do not have the voice for it, even when they try. They sound like someone on the corner who is talking to other persons on the corner. It would not be that bad if, even if they do not possess a good voice for the format, then at least what they talk about is constructive and worth listening to.

Not so, in so many instances. It is shout-outs, annoying drivel, and woefully little information about the music they are juggling.

Speaking about juggling, there is this matter of dancehall on radio, obscuring a few words in the lyrics here and there, not making much of a difference. I love my dancehall session - but not on the FM dial. That is why radio is radio and dance is dance.

As we expand towards 40 radio stations for a country of less than three million persons, where is the quality control? It cannot be left to the Broadcasting Commission to monitor and apply sanctions at the on-air stage of a very long process. And, even if they catch a breach or two, the Commission cannot sanction sheer bad taste and lack of training and basic talent.

Radio does far too much to shape this nation to be left up to 'fren an fren'.