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Political pressure to promote the party in power

Uproar in the place because I was named director of JBC Radios 1 and 2

Friday, September 28, 2012    

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IN 1972 I was promoted to be head of JBC FM. I really didn't want to be an administrator. Carey Robinson, who was general manager at the time, put the challenge to me. While I was supposed to be thinking it over, equipment arrived and people were calling to ask where it should go. So by default I took on the gigantic project.

Rupert Linton was the first operator, and Dermot Hussey helped me work out a music format that would make sense for us in Jamaica. We started by getting tapes from abroad -- huge three-hour spools, mainly from a studio in California called CNB. Then we would do our own selections of records 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. I gradually introduced UWI (University of the West Indies) programmes and material from the BBC, Voice of America and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; plays, poetry, biographical features and so on. From time to time we'd tape a school choir or concerts at the School of Music, or present a stereo recording of a TV special, such as at Easter or Christmas. Between six and eight in the evenings we aired a classical music programme, a jazz programme and folk music from around the world.

People liked what we were doing. We offered many kinds of music and not a lot of talk. A couple of surveys gave us about 75 per cent of FM audience. RJR copied our format and made it work, while we systematically destroyed ours.

In 1975 Dwight Whylie, who was then general manager, asked me to try and do something about AM radio's poor listenership -- only 12.8 per cent at the time. I suggested a retreat in which a small group of us, including Charles Hyatt and Uriel Aldridge, would examine what JBC Radio had been doing and discuss ways to improve it. At a meeting early in 1976 -- February, I think -- it was agreed that the new format would be launched in May. Night after night, my living room became a workstation, with things spread out everywhere and people like Dermot Hussey and Baldwin Lennon dropping in. Then Dwight Whylie left JBC and the acting general manager, Tino Barovier, wanted to know why there had not yet been any announcement of my appointment to the job I was actually doing. I went for lunch on a Friday and when I came back the place was in an uproar because Tino had announced that I was the director of JBC Radio 1 and 2. A lot of people who had been willing to pitch in and help until four, five, six in the morning all of a sudden took the line -- 'Is fi-har work, is she a get pay fi it'. We could have accomplished more if I had not been officially appointed.

I struggled on from 1976 to 1978 in the role of director. Listenership increased and we knew we were on the right path, but there was resistance. No one seemed to want to have a woman in charge, and also there was political pressure to promote the party in power in preference to presenting national issues, the country's issues.

I gave up that position and was asked to establish a theatre department by Wycliffe Bennett, the next appointee in the rapid turnover of JBC general managers. He kept saying that there cannot be a proper broadcasting service without a theatre department. There was no guideline to follow, no real office, and at first no staff except me. I begged the administration to rent space across the road, I begged furniture from various places, and then, remembering what I could of the BBC system and the Australian system and what I knew of our situation here, I set up the new department.

The first thing I produced was a soap opera which management hoped might pull the mid-morning audience from RJR. It had been many years since we had a local soap opera on JBC and we thought the climate was right for another. Charles Hyatt (who joined me on the staff) persuaded Carmel Christie to write it, and we got to work. We cast it and started rehearsing. It took a little time to get off the ground and there were complaints about how we were spending money on the serial and it wasn't bringing in any revenue. But by the end of the first year, the serial Floralee had a sponsor and everything seemed rosy.

At its largest, our staff consisted of Charles, Irma Parke, Ruth HoShing, Rosemarie Hudson and me. We did television plays as well, and we continued to use material from the BBC Transcription Service and our sources overseas which we thought might be of interest to Jamaica. It was going fairly well.

Then Wycliffe Bennett was manoeuvered out, and with him management support for the Department of Theatre. We had no budget to speak of, could not afford talent fees for acting or script writing; could not even get time in the editing room. By the end of 1979 I knew it was time to go.

Sunday in the Autobiography of Leonie Forbes: Gloria Lannaman got rid of me from JBC

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