In 1995, the then Chairman of the Barbados Broadcasting Authority, veteran journalist Carl Moore, spoke about some of the applications coming into his office for licences to operate radio stations. He suggested, among other things, a station offering 100 percent local content, whether in terms of news or entertainment. Back then, there were only six stations on the local airwaves.
Fast forward some 25 years and the number of radio stations has increased tremendously. Despite that number, we find many of them tend to compete for the same audiences and as such, at times it is difficult to tell which is which when ‘channel surfing’.
For example, we have HOTT 95.3 FM, Slam 101.1 FM and 98.1 The One all catering to the youth, but specifically focusing on what could be considered ‘party music’; Y 103.3, The Beat 104.1 and Capital Media 99.3 offering similar fare in terms of their music and programming; BBS 90.7 and Faith 102.1 staying true to their roots and playing “Just beautiful music” with little interruption from announcers, and CITA Radio and Life 97.5 for the Christian market. In the traditional format catering to mostly older audiences and offering both talk and entertainment, you will find Q100.7, CBC 94.7 and VOB 92.9. Beyond that, there are also online stations and the Ministry of Education started a station recently which broadcasts educational material for students at the island’s primary and secondary schools.
In 2018, when she assumed office, the current Chairperson of the Barbados Broadcasting Authority, Dr. Allyson Leacock, expressed similar sentiments to Mr. Moore in terms of what she thought local stations should offer. Well, as of yesterday, it seems as though one of those prayers was answered when the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) changed one of its stations, 94.7 FM, to a 100 percent Barbadian content format.
For many years, local musicians as well as cultural practitioners have been calling for this, especially in light of the fact that local entertainers do not earn as much royalties from their music as their international counterparts. Generally speaking, the only time there was 100 percent local music on the air in Barbados was at Crop Over time when new music was promoted, and at independence when all the old songs got pulled out of storage.
There was also concern that when musicians released songs in a genre other than calypso, they did not receive much airplay unless they were Christmas songs, which were guaranteed rotation at least once a year. However, gospel artists have fared somewhat better based on the timeless nature of their products. In recent times, artists have managed to work around the hassle of trying to get their songs on radio by posting them on their social media channels, and this has proven successful for many of them. The now defunct Barbados Music Awards was also a useful vehicle in terms of informing Barbadians that there was more to local music than just calypso given that it recognised performers in a wide range of genres.
The change in format does bring to mind the question, what constitutes a local performer? Does Rihanna qualify, given that she has made her name as an entertainer in the United States? What of Charles Lewis and Jimmy Haynes, who were based in Germany and the UK respectively when they reaped musical success, Lewis with his “Soca Dance” in 1990 across Europe and Haynes as a member of the UK based reggae band Steel Pulse? Not to mention Dennis Bovell, who was one of the leading reggae music producers in the UK back in the 1970s and early 1980s. We believe there may be some contention in this regard.
It is still early days yet, but apart from the music there are other elements we can consider. In his book “Westminster’s Jewel”, former producer and presenter with CBC Television, Olutoye Walrond, gave some ideas on possible topics a 100 percent local station could offer in terms of talk radio. “The material for a programming format like this is endless: parliamentary debates, lectures, discussions, interviews with elderly Barbadians, some interesting aspect of Barbadian life or Barbadian society, or an in depth look at issues such as solar and other forms of renewable energy or genetically modified foods and the risks they may pose to our health. Not everyone is interested in a profuse diet of music and the repetitive daily banter between announcers and fans sending shout outs to every Tom, Dick and Mary.”
Radio dramas or comedies are still a valid genre and can be brought into modern times. Repeating the late Jeanette Layne-Clark’s shows from the “old days” would be useful, but at the same time, there are lots of young talented theatrical performers coming out of the programmes at the Barbados Community College and UWI who could use that big break for their work. Once again, some of these artists are putting their work on social media, but they should be encouraged to do the same on traditional media. And CBC has its fair share of veteran announcers, radio producers and technical operators who can guide them on the finer points of radio production.
It is a brave step forward that is long in coming, and we can only wish CBC the best and urge them to embrace the ideas of newcomers, offering them contracts if necessary, to produce programming geared for all ages, and to make the effort a sustainable one. Ideally it should urge local artists across the disciplines to produce more once they know they have a ready market for their work that will embrace it rather than expose it for a short while then shelve it.