Why It’s Important for the UK Culture To Have Black-Owned Radio

When it comes to Black-owned businesses the first things that come to mind are either restaurants, bars, or retail. While there’s no doubt these establishments 100% deserve our support, there is another part of the culture that deserves to be promoted too and that is Black-owned radio.

This is so not only artists and their music grow but also the support for creatives like; DJs, radio producers, and presenters that work hard to find and give them a spotlight.

In the UK our music scene really is flourishing and starting to compete with the states with musical collaborations happening all the time and our biggest fan Drake forever promoting the Black UK music scene.

What we can’t forget is that we have genres that are quintessentially Black and British with Jungle having such a rich history that goes hand in hand with the underground music scene and the influence of pirate radio.

A little bit of history on Pirate Radio

It started back in the 1980s and was the first platform and home for the music of Black origin, a place to be welcomed and heard set up by the late Leroy George Anderson, also known as DJ Lepke, on Dread Broadcasting Corporation.

Lepke at The Ritzy, Brixton, 2017. Photo by Ron Vester

This was a pirate radio station running out of west London playing Reggae, and eventually branching out into R&B, Ska, Soul, Funk, Calypso, and Lovers Rock. DBC is known to be the UK’s first Black-owned pirate radio station. It has progressed into the radio stations we have today that are more diverse in the music they play. 

We should definitely be proud of how much our culture continues to grow and impact the charts from drill, grime, Hip-Hop, R&B and more Black-originated genres of music. Whilst much of our focus is to make sure Black music continues to chart and gain commercial success, an aspect that is important and not yet completely diversified is radio.

How much of it is owned by us and how many radio stations employ Black creatives on their team?

Ownership Is Key

It’s great to know that the current top radio stations in the UK play a range of music but if we had more Black-owned radio, stations would more accurately represent the music being produced and allow for more Black artists to be pushed into the spotlight. It would allow for those behind the scenes to work in a more diverse environment.

This being said, many Presenters and DJs have pushed to make this more of a reality with pirate radio being a very important part of radio history. It has led to the emergence of stations like KISSFM and Capital XTRA (formerly Choice FM).

The issue that remains is how many of these stations stay Black-owned.

For me growing up, Choice FM was the first station that I listened to and loved but I often felt that they sold out, trading Black ownership for a wider audience reach under the Capital brand. However, Choice FM has been honoured as the first-ever Black-owned, commercially licensed station that broadcasted across London receiving its blue heritage plaque.

“Choice FM will always hold a special place in the hearts of the Lambeth community particularly in Brixton where it was launched in 1990 at Trinity Gardens,” Councillor Sonia Winifred, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture, said.

“The first licensed independent Black music radio station gave us all a sense of pride and belonging. There has been no other to replace it and we owe a great deal to its co-founders Patrick Berry and Neil Kenlock when it started broadcasting 31 years ago, on 31 March 1990.” (taken from NME.com)

May be an image of 2 people, people standing, outdoors and text that says "16 COMMUNITY On March 990 TRUST CHOICE FM sbuilding from 96.9 FM frequency F FRIENDS"

Looking To The Future

Having these stations has allowed: artists, consumers, and those who work behind the scenes to create platforms that not only promote our music but ensure that our work is valued, understood, and appreciated in our communities.

Without them would half the artists we enjoy listening to have found their way into the spotlight or stay undiscovered?

Not only is it important to hear Black artists on the radio, but its also important to see Black presenters and producers working behind the scenes too, it shows a true reflection of the culture and industry we’ve watched grow before us and in a way had a part in building and portrays a positive image for the generation coming up.

The work is starting to be implemented with BBC Radio 1Xtra finally getting a Black head, Faron Mckenzie. It shows that in the radio industry if you put the work in you can attain the higher positions and get promoted for the recognition in your work but this is still at a lesser rate than white counterparts.

Faron McKenzie announced as new Head of BBC Radio 1Xtra - Media Centre

Minority ethnic people – and particularly Black colleagues – are under-represented in senior management across the industry: 8% of those employed by TV broadcasters in senior management roles are from a Minority Ethnic Group (“MEG”) compared with a national workforce average of 12% (which increases to 35% in London and 31% in Manchester). Black colleagues are more underrepresented in senior management than other minority ethnic groups, at 1% (compared with 3% of the working population). (Ofcom)

In addition, there is still much more that can be done to diversify radio stations and promote our own platforms. Don’t just listen to the larger platforms like KISS FM, Capital Xtra, or BBC Radio 1Xtra but please also, put in the time to listen to Reprezent Radio, No Signal, NTS Radio, and Rinse FM who promote Black music and creatives that work for and with them.

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