Sat | Mar 25, 2023

Music and More | Radio is still relevant, after all

Published:Thursday | April 26, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
Dr Dennis Howard
Beenie Man

Make no mistake about it, the rumpus around music format changes on radio stations within the RJRGLEANER Communications Group not only reaffirms that radio is important in Jamaica, but also points to a matter of control. The shouts from the makers and players of music about caring for the greater good of dancehall arouse very little sympathy and a whole lot of cynicism in me, for it is the age-old strategy to claim concern for the larger cause while pursuing narrow interests which are damaging to that supposed general welfare.

Look past the cass cass, accusations of fighting dancehall and clarifications of kill calls, disc jockeys fuming, to the gloriously obvious - radio is still relevant in Jamaica. Look beyond that to the unstated - that for a very long time, some key radio slots have been under the control of persons who have used it as 'Fren and Company' and 'Do Suppen Fi Yusself FM', which simply cannot work.

Dr Dennis Howard, RJRGLEANER Communications Group general manager, radio services, last week issued a statement in which he sought to explain the media house's radio strategy. The statement was in response to recent newspaper and social-media articles that have quoted two dancehall artistes, Beenie Man and I-Octane, complaining about the way in which their songs have been treated in recent times by the Radio Services Division of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group.

The RJR and JBC radio stations were started nine years apart in the 1950s, the great privatisation thrust taking place in the early 1990s to result in stations like IRIE in St Ann, and KLAS in Mandeville (then), plus the subsequent emergence of community-based radio stations with widespread coverage (NewsTalk at UWI, Roots FM on Mahoe Drive, TBC on Molynes Road among them), plus overseas stations like BBC. Then think about all the competing audiovisual media which have emerged, from the addition of CVM-TV and LOVE to the free-to-air stock, the legitimisation of cable and the flood of smartphones and prepaid access options. It is amazing that not only are there so many radio stations, but people still listen when there are so many other audiovisual content options around. Damn, people are still tuned in to radio!

Now follow this. There was

a time when Jamaican popular music had great difficulties getting radio airplay, and the sound systems sent the tunes out to the public (Merritone, the oldest continuously active sound system in the world, was started in the 1950s). However, in more recent times, the sound systems have been bypassed in favour of going straight to radio with songs, as Garfield 'Chin' Bourne of promotional outfit Irish and Chin pointed out recently. How does this happen? How can performers and producers be so sure of radio airplay that they can, in some instances, overlook the sound systems which are the building blocks of Jamaican popular music? Think about these things and ask if there has been equal access for all.