Throughout an illustrious nearly 35-year career span devoted to promoting reggae music through his various radio programs and in musical battles against some of Jamaica's most feared sound system selectors, England's David Rodigan has received several major awards. None, however, is as prestigious as the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), which was bestowed by Queen Elizabeth in a ceremony this morning, Feb. 14th, at London's Buckingham Palace. The MBE is the UK's fifth highest award.
"One of the reasons I feel so honored to be awarded for services to broadcasting is because it is so important for reggae music and, without being patronizing, for the Jamaican people who migrated to this country in the 50s and 60s and brought their music with them," explained Rodigan in an interview with Billboard.biz from his London home.
Rodigan can be heard each Sunday night 11 p.m. - 1:00 a.m. on London's Kiss FM, and for the second consecutive year he will also host a weekly summer program devoted to reggae commencing May 23 through August 13 on BBC Radio 2, which reaches an audience exceeding 14 million in the UK, according to the BBC's website.
Named Broadcaster of the Year in May 2009 at the Sony Radio Academy Awards, David Rodigan was born June 24th, 1951 on a military base in Hanover, Germany to Scots-Irish parents and raised in North Africa until he was eight years old, when the family moved to England. A trained actor who had a recurring role as Broken Tooth in the Doctor Who serial The Mysterious Planet, it was Rodigan's obsession with Jamaican music, which he first heard in the mid '60s, that ultimately defined his career trajectory.
"There was about a four-year phenomenon of Jamaican hits impacting British pop culture like a whirlwind from the West Indies: Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" (which topped the Hot 100 in 1964 and was the first major hit for Chris Blackwell's Island Records via the Fontana imprint); "Israelites" by Desmond Dekker, the first British no. 1 for a Jamaican artist (peaking at no. 9 on the Hot 100 in 1968) among many others, that's when I fell in love with this music and started playing it at youth clubs and at parties," Rodigan reminisced.
Rodigan began his broadcasting career in 1978 on BBC Radio London. He moved to Capital Radio in 1979, where he remained for 11 years, hosting his legendary Roots Rockers program, cassettes of which were prized commodities among reggae fans. He further solidified his reggae street-cred when he began broadcasting his Capital Radio show live from Jamaica. He engaged in a series of on-air competitions with renowned presenter Barry "Barry G" Gordon of (Jamaica's now defunct) JBC radio, their lively exchanges garnering a widespread audience that included Jamaicans on the island and those living in England and throughout North America.
"As a second generation Jamaican growing up in England, I used to listen to David Rodigan's programs, tape his shows and then go out and buy everything he played," says Lady English, a co-host of the reggae program Keeling's Super Mix heard on WVIP FM in New Rochelle, NY. English says Rodigan inspired her own career as a journalist and then as a broadcaster in reggae music. "Rodigan gave us access to the sound system movement and insights into each artist he played. Initially there was outrage that a white man was playing reggae but that quickly subsided because no other presenter in England did so much for the music. He is truly an icon and most deserving of this honor."
Despite his mild-mannered professorial demeanor, Rodigan proved to be a formidable opponent within Jamaica's gritty, highly competitive sound system circuit. Armed with his encyclopedic knowledge of reggae, instantaneous recall of recording trivia and an arsenal of cleverly scripted, well produced, rare dub plate specials (an artist's customization of a hit tune lauding a specific selector or deriding his rival) each prefaced by an informed preamble and delivered with a distinctively thespian flair, Rodigan usually emerged victorious from heated face-offs against top sound systems including the notorious battle with selector Ricky Trooper of Kilimanjaro at Long Island's Jamroc nightclub in 1997.
Rodigan says the clashing circuit has "run out of steam" in recent years, largely due to a "lack of quality reggae recordings coming from Jamaica" due to dominance of "island pop" preferred by younger acts. Nonetheless, he is solidly booked for (non-clash) dates throughout 2012 with just one weekend off for a family holiday in August and a few days rest at Christmas. Currently, Rodigan is reaching younger (British) fans whose musical preferences include drum & bass, grime and especially dub-step, all of which share Jamaican reggae and dub as their too often unacknowledged progenitor.
"Several top dub-step producers have sampled my voice, which has taken me to entirely new audiences through bookings at universities and at rock festivals," Rodigan says. "Those audiences go crazy when I play roots reggae and dub plates mixed by (Jamaica's) late King Tubby (considered the godfather of dub) alongside some dub-step tunes that I have had customized," Rodigan enthuses. "They are surprised by my age, my knowledge and the passion I still have for this music, particularly the stuff that made me buzz all those years ago."