"Critics said it was impossible to sustain a 24-hour reggae music station. The 'nay-sayers' did not count on the strength of 40 years worth of rich, pulsating Jamaican music."
Reggae music is the sound of Jamaica. It blares from home stereos, nightclubs and food stalls. Politicians use it during elections and the Jamaican tourist board use it to promote the island. But this hasn't always been the case.
Reggae music comes from Jamaica's ghettos. In the 1950s all night street dances were held by soundsystems Tom The Great Sebastian and V Rocket. There was no music recorded in Jamaica so soundmen played imported American RnB, soul and jazz - anything good for dancing.
Middle class Jamaicans ran RJR and JBC, Jamaica's main Radio stations at the time. They regarded anything to 'wild' as unrespectable, their playlists the opposite to the soundmen's party cuts.
The soundsystems developed loyal fan bases creating a soundclash culture, competitive record playing between soundsystems judged on selection and exclusivity of records. To ensure they had one-off tracks soundmen in the 1960s, mainly Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, started recording 'specials' with Jamaican artists.
These specials were made with the sole intention of being played at a soundclash and were the foundation of Jamaica's music industry. Artists sang controversial lyrics about life on the streets - tough love, social injustice, rude boys and Rastafari. Towards the end of the 1960s soundmen were pressing a few hundred copies of their specials to sell to shops, nightclubs and music lovers.
Soon Jamaica's first indigenous music forms, rocksteady, ska and lovers rock, the musical foundations of reggae, could be heard outside the ghetto. People pressure and the occasional violent threat from music collectives forced stations to start playing Jamaican records.
In 1969 radio employees from numerous stations were discovered taking money from American distributors to press American records and guarantee airplay. A lot of people got fired and from then on more Jamaican music was played.
The island didn't have a dedicated reggae station until Irie Fm started in 1990. After launching the station said, "Critics said it was impossible to sustain a 24-hour reggae music station. The 'nay-sayers' did not count on the strength of 40 years worth of rich, pulsating Jamaican music."
Sarah Bentley 14 March 05
Sarah is music journalist specialising in reggae, dancehall and reggaeton. She regularly travels to the Caribbean to cover music from it's source and contributes stories to Touch, Trace, ID and Dazed & Confused.