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Old November 1st 04, 03:25 PM
Mike Terry
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Default The Dread Broadcasting Corporation

The Independent
01 November 2004

The Dread Broadcasting Corporation was set up towards the end of 1979,
shortly after Margaret Thatcher came to power. While the population at large
seemed to embrace the new capitalist mood, I recall that things remained
pretty bleak for the average black Joe or Josephine. Their sense of
exclusion was reinforced by the lack of black music on the radio: we were
expected to make do with the prescribed "specialist" titbits (amounting to
between two and five hours a week), even in the most densely populated
ethnic areas.

One listener who was unwilling to accept the status quo was my brother
Lepke, the founder of DBC, which marked a new concept in British radio - the
dedicated black music station. Lepke took what he thought was his only
course of action and built his own radio station after acquiring a
medium-wave transmitter.

By use of a 60ft high mast in the back garden of his house in Neasden,
north-west London, he broadcast shows that had been pre-recorded onto
cassettes. Before long, DBC had transformed London radio, airing rarely
heard calypso, rhythm & blues, reggae, hi life, soca, jazz and hip hop.
These showcases were fronted by a sterling cast of presenters, including the
singer/ songwriter Neneh Cherry, musician Gus Dada Africa, writer Lloyd
Bradley and journalist Nick Coleman (now with The Independent).

Lepke's ambition was to bring about a shift that would allow more
alternative stations to operate legally within the UK's broadcasting

Another important consideration for my Jamaican-born brother was the black
elder; he remembered life in the Caribbean and empathised with the sense of
isolation the older generations felt. He envisioned a station that they
could tune in to for news, features and music from Africa and the Caribbean.

Serial exclusion tends to cause the excluded to find alternative means of
expression, as with the world's first so-called "pirate radio" station,
Caroline, the infamous broadcasting vessel of the mid-Sixties. Loud and
proud, Radio Caroline circumnavigated our green and pleasant island, beaming
over decadent sounds of freedom and rock'n'roll. Quite why they were landed
with the "pirate" moniker remains a mystery, as Caroline operated in
international waters.

By mooring three miles outside of British jurisdiction they were not subject
to British law. So if they weren't illegal, why did they do it? Necessity,
is the short answer. Georgie Fame's classic "Yeh, Yeh" - rejected by the BBC
for being too "black" - was released by Caroline's founder, Ronan O'Rahilly.
Unable to procure any airplay, he had turned in desperation to Radio
Luxemburg. They simply showed him their packed, record company-booked play
list - and then showed him the door. Before leaving, he declared: "I'll just
have to start my own station, then." And he did, with Caroline, just as my
brother did some 15 years later with DBC.

The creation of black alternative radio in 1979 can be compared to what
happened in downtown Kingston, Jamaica, in the Fifties and early Sixties
with the creation of the sound system culture. Barred from the uptown
haunts, working-class entrepreneurs fashioned their own recreational spaces.
Sound system owners such as Sir Coxone, Duke Reid and Prince Buster would
"string up" on a piece of land - a lawn, say, or someone's yard - and let
rip. Often called the dance hall, it was a place where ordinary Jamaicans
could socialise.

During that time, many of the same people were lured to the UK by the
promise of work and a good life in the Mother Country. On arrival, the "No
Dogs, No Irish, No Blacks" signs that greeted them were a swift wake-up
call. They soon realised that they faced slum housing, low wages, poor
working conditions and social exclusion. Ever resourceful, they re-invented
their outdoor shindigs as"blues dances". These soirées were often held in
two or three emptied rooms in an entrepreneurial household, or in an unused
building that had been "captured" for the night. The host would sometimes
charge a small gate fee, but the real money was made at the bar, selling
curried goat, fried fish and booze.

Apart from the lucrative nature of the blues dance, it was also one of the
few places where black people could meet in groups, as they used to back
home. This high-decibel bonding, however, did not impress residents, local
authorities or the police, who, armed with new powers, all but obliterated
the dances by the late Eighties.

But the demise of the blues dance heralded a whole new method of social
interaction: black radio. As well as DBC, other stations emerged, such as
Horizon, Invicta, Kiss and PCRL in Birmingham, as well as newer models like
Freek and Delight. Without them, key figures such as Soul II Soul, Trevor
Nelson, Norman Jay, So Solid Crew, Ms Dynamite, Dizzee Rascal and countless
others would not have been so easily ingested into the bowels of the

DBC and its ilk served as a catalyst for changes in legislation, which in
turn encouraged the emergence of licensed black music stations, from Choice
and Jazz to Kiss (formerly an illegal broadcaster). More recently, the BBC
has founded non-commercial versions in the form of the Asian Network and
1-Xtra. In my opinion, the Asian Network is one of the jewels in the BBC's
digital radio crown, quite rightly designed to appeal to Asian audiences of
all ages and backgrounds. I'm not sure if the same could be said for 1-Xtra,
launched as "the home of new black music" in 2002 - and thereby, incredibly,
ignoring two, maybe three generations. Earlier this year, 1-Xtra dropped the
"new black music" tag and began labelling its output as "street music". This
is worrying at a time when two of the largest commercial stations, Kiss and
Choice, have been absorbed by large, national media conglomerates. Neither
is recognisable as the station it was set up to be.

And so we have a situation, 25 years after the founding of DBC, where we are
almost back to square one. Later this month, the broadcasting regulator
Ofcom will announce more community radio licences. Whether it's Access FM
for the disabled or Caribbean Folk Gospel FM for aging, first-generation
West Indians, air space is available. Ofcom views the introduction of
licensed community stations as "a low-cost and legal alternative for people
otherwise attracted to illegal 'pirate' broadcasting, some of whom claim to
be meeting a local community need on a not-for-profit basis for local social
gain." It's a good start; a series of small outfits, operating locally, is
the way forward in the short term, and will ultimately provide greater
opportunities at the entry level of broadcasting. But what's wrong with
making money too? With DBC we were given no Government or other funding, but
we still found ways to generate our own income legitimately.

There has been some progress since 1979: thankfully, there is more black
music on the air and more black broadcasters are in work. But can we have a
big, fat, commercial, money-making station that we can hold on to? Or at the
very least allow the BBC version to do what it's supposed to say on the tin.

('DBC: Rebel Radio' is released by Trojan Records; Miss P appears on BBC
London Live 94.9FM, on Saturdays at 10pm)

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