City Paper is not for tourists
By 8 a.m. last Friday, the shiny red Plymouth Neon, rented for the sole purpose of transporting protesters, had pulled up and parked in front of WPFW’s offices in Adams Morgan. As songs by the Mighty Diamonds and other reggae groups blared from the tape deck and out of the open doors and trunk, Ronald Creed Opey danced in the middle of the street, thrusting a placard in time with the beat and giving fliers to drivers passing by. He and several others demonstrated for about three hours, just as they had the day before, when there had been 12 of them.
On April 20, Shockwaves, a reggae radio program that had aired on WPFW from midnight to 3 a.m. every Friday since 1995, played for the last timewith little warningwhen volunteer host Papa Wabe left for a paid position at XM Satellite Radio. (Shockwaves, named after a song by Funkadelic, began officially in 1981 and experienced a few time changes over its 20-year run.) The following week, listeners accustomed to a healthy dose of late-night roots-and-culture reggae were greeted instead by the sounds of zydeco.
“You cannot have a program in a time slot for six yearsand now you’re just going to pull it off the air,” says protest organizer Tony Java, president of the D.C. Annual Reggae Music Awards. “This move that they made with us is totally unacceptable.”
Longtime WPFW supporter and local poet Abena Disroe agrees. “You have to prepare people when something major happens. It’s like [WPFW] just left the community out of the decision,” she says. “There’s a very large reggae community in D.C. and the surrounding areas, and [the station managers] need to understand that when making decisions, you need to involve them and show them your sensitivity and care.”
WPFW’s reasons for not replacing the show with another reggae program are unclear. Program director/station manager Lou Hankins declined to comment.
Java decided to pass around a petition in support of the show at D.C.-area nightclubs over a five-day period. In the end, he presented 856 signatures to WPFW executives. But there was no response. On May 21, Java got permits from the MPD’s Special Operations Division and began demonstrating with friends on May 24, an activity he plans to keep up every Thursday and Friday until the program hits the airwaves again.
Although the station has at least one other reggae program and a couple of world-music shows that dedicate a significant amount of time to reggae, Java calculates the loss as considerable: “You can play 16 songs per hour. So you’re taking away at least 48 songs. That’s a lot to take away from us.”
That “us” includes listeners like Bernadette Gordon. The construction worker from Guyana says she used to tape her favorite Dennis Brown songs off the old program. “It’s a part of my culture. That’s the music that I grew up listening to all my life.” And it was the show’s time slot that kept Teddy Atkinsof Teddy Bear Promotions, a local reggae-dance-promotion businessa fan. After going to a late-night movie or getting off work at a local nightclub, he says, he would “listen to the program ’til I fell asleep. It sort of put me to bed at night.”
For these and other listeners, the end of Shockwaves came as a sad surprise. But for Java, the loss is felt even deeper. Just four months ago, Java’s awards committee honored WPFW for “reggae lifetime achievement.” And, for each of the three years prior, the station received the organization’s “One Love” Bob Marley Award. Java sees the show’s cancellation as “a slap in the face.”
“If they would open up the phone lines and do a poll to see who wants reggae from the midnight-to-3 time slot,” says Disroe, “I think they’d have to hire a few people to answer all the calls that came in.” Ayesha Morris