Dermot Hussey, Satellite Radio pioneer

Dermot Hussey, Satellite Radio pioneer

Observer senior writer

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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This is the third in a 10-part series on Jamaicans who have made their mark on North American radio.


IT'S been 16 years since Dermot Hussey left Jamaica to take up a post as one of the first disc jockeys on groundbreaking XM Satellite Radio in Washington DC. It was an exciting new horizon for someone whose career went against the conventional.

Hussey went to XM Satellite Radio as music director. The station merged with rival Siriusxm in 2008 and since then, he has hosted The Joint Mondays to Fridays from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

The Kingston-born Hussey, who is in his mid-70s, has enjoyed his time living and working in the American capital.

“An amazing ride is the best way for me to describe my being able to work in Satellite Radio. To know that reggae as a format, is an important part of what has been a revolution in radio, is something I'm very proud of,” he said.

Prior to joining XM Satellite Radio, Hussey worked at Radio Jamaica, and hosted The Inner Ear on the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. He had also done a stint with the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom.

Going to 'DC' and working in a new format was initially a challenge.

“It was a quantum leap, having to adjust to a different kind of radio that was non-terrestrial, which is the background I came from. To have to adjust to not only a new thinking about radio, but also new systems,” Hussey explained.

Listeners to XM Satellite Radio had to pay for the service on their radios, mainly in their cars. It had a plethora of news, sports and entertainment channels and programmes including The Joint, on which Hussey played a diverse brand of reggae.

Since the merger 10 years ago, he shares host duties for The Joint with New York veterans Pat McKay and DJ Jabba. Reggae, he said, has benefited significantly from satellite radio in the United States.

“One of the best recollections I have when I joined XM Satellite Radio, was a study by the National Endowment For The Arts (1982-1993) which said, '49 million people in America like reggae'. Of that number, the 18-29-year-old category polled the highest number, 29 per cent,” he noted. “XM and Sirius launched Satellite Radio in 2001, and both companies merged in 2008. So fast-forward to 2018. Siriusxm is heard in 49 states in the US, and it can be heard on Dish Network Radio in Hawaii, the 50th state. Siriusxm currently has 33 million subscribers in North America. The service is also heard in Canada. What that means for reggae, is that Satellite Radio has given it (reggae) something it never had before, a national platform.”

At the JBC and RJR, Hussey's playlist appealed to the eclectic listener. They could hear the latest dancehall hit, classic Marley or Burning Spear, with some Fela Kuti thrown in.

Listeners to The Joint will hear reggae across the board but Hussey points out that Satellite Radio is governed by a Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that four songs by the same artiste cannot be played during a three-hour period.

“The breaking of songs and artistes takes on a different perspective on Satellite Radio. There is a playlist, which includes songs by many artistes that are in constant rotation. A new song may be given more frequent rotation,” he explained. “As the playlist is shared by all on-air talent, it's not a matter of breaking an artiste, as is the case of traditional radio when a deliberate focus can be placed on one artiste.”

Dermot Hussey returned to Jamaican radio in 2008 as host of The Sunday Riff on which he serves a potpourri of sounds. For once a week, he is back on familiar turf.

“It allows me an opportunity to format music in an organic way, when I take a theme, and create it from start to finish with a group of specially chosen artistes, which I think is still one of the virtues of traditional radio,” he said.

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